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Hudson River Trustees Take Issue With GE Report

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Federal agencies have sent a letter to General Electric over concerns related to a recent Hudson River cleanup report. 

The Federal Hudson River Natural Resource Trustees recently sent a letter to General Electric to, as the group contends, address misinformation and correct the public record on a Hudson River Project Report submitted by the company to the New York State comptroller’s office in late December.

GE is involved in a process to clean up and restore areas of the Hudson River from Fort Edward to Troy, a project ordered and overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The operation is focused on removing polychlorinated biphenyls – or PCB’s – released into the Hudson River from its Fort Edward and Hudson Falls plants until the practice was banned in the 1970s.

Kathryn Jahn, Case Manager for the U.S. Department of the Interior for the Hudson River Natural Resource Damage Assessment and an author of the letter to GE, said her agency has documented impacts on natural resources not acknowledged in GE’s most recent report.

“We have issued injury determinations for surface water, for waterfowl, and for fish and we anticipate that GE will be liable for restoration of those injured natural resources,” said Jahn.

In addition to the U.S. Department of the Interior, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also serves as a Federal Hudson River Trustee.

The letter says, “By selectively referencing only some of the Natural Resource Damage regulations, the Report is misleading as to what constitutes an injured resource.”

The Trustees also take issue with a statement made by GE in the report that says “there is no basis to conclude that expanded dredging would reduce the Company’s long-term NRD liability.” The Trustees dispute this, and say in the letter they “are interested in additional dredging as a way of accelerating recovery of the river and reducing GE’s future NRD liability.”

The Trustees also dispute GE’s wording concerning inconclusive studies on PCB’s effect on two bird species, spotted sandpiper and belted kingfisher, and the suggestion that the Trustees have remained “largely hidden from public view (including GE’s view)” in their NRD assessment process.

Jahn said the Trustees rely on public input in their NRD assessment work.

“In determining that restoration that’s need we seek public input on terms of what types of projects are available, then we’ll evaluate those projects and make a determination about how to proceed,” said Jahn.

Mark Behan, a spokesman for General Electric, said GE has been meeting cleanup and restoration goals set by the EPA, and the concerns from NOAA and the Department of the Interior over GE’s restoration efforts show a difference of opinion among federal agencies.

“The major dredging is underway in the Hudson River, is meeting its objectives according to EPA, but two other federal agencies have been pushing for an expansion of that project, and EPA has specifically declined to expand the project,” said Behan. “We believe the current dredging project is working, it should be completed, and we agree with EPA’s determination.”

Behan said the Trustees’ work so far has not produced any finding of liability against GE.

“In fact the work that’s been published shows that wildlife populations and natural resources generally in the upper Hudson are healthy, robust, and thriving,” said Behan.

After the restoration work is completed, NOAA and the Department of the Interior will continue to monitor and determine damage to natural resources on the Hudson caused by GE.

“We continue to determine which resources have been injured and the extent of those injuries from PCBs released by General Electric, and the compensation that’s required to make the public whole from that contamination,” said Jahn.

GE will enter its fifth year of dredging and restoration work in the spring.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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