Suit Alleges that EPA Prematurely Issued a "Certificate of Completion" to GE for Hudson River PCB Cleanup
Monitoring Data Demonstrates that Hudson River Fish Remain Too Toxic to Eat
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for violating federal law when it issued a "Certificate of Completion" to General Electric Company for its removal of polychlorinated biphenyls from the Hudson River. The EPA issued the certificate to GE on April 11, 2019, finding that the company's required cleanup of PCBs from the river was complete, despite evidence that concentrations remain dangerously high in portions of the river.
On the day the EPA issued the Certificate of Completion, the EPA's Five-Year Review found that the cleanup was not adequately protective of human health and the environment. The EPA concluded that the Agency does not have sufficient information to even determine if or when the cleanup would meet this standard. For this and other reasons, the lawsuit charges that the EPA's issuance of the Certificate of Completion to GE is beyond the Agency's legal authority and should be vacated.
"Trump's EPA is failing New Yorkers and the environment by putting the priorities of polluters first," Governor Cuomo said. "The Hudson River is among New York's most precious natural and economic resources, but despite years of dredging, levels of PCB contamination are still unacceptably high in the river and in fish. We have an obligation to protect the health and vitality of both the Hudson River and the communities along its banks for current and future generations. Since the EPA has failed to hold GE accountable for restoring the river, New York is taking action to demand a full and complete remediation."
"We will not allow the EPA to let big polluters like General Electric off the hook without a fight," said Attorney General James. "The facts are clear: Hudson River fish remain much too contaminated with PCBs to safely eat, and EPA admits they don't know when - or if - they ever will be. EPA can't ignore these facts - or the law - and simply pronounce GE's cleanup of PCBs complete. That is why we filed this lawsuit to force EPA to follow the law and require GE to truly complete its PCB cleanup and finally return the full use of the Hudson River to the people of New York."
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "Instead of fighting to protect our environment and the health of our communities, EPA is giving GE a free pass after decades of contamination. By allowing GE to walk away from the Hudson River cleanup, EPA is abandoning its mission and leaving a job unfinished. Today, New York is doing what we must to compel EPA and GE to finish the job and protect public health, our irreplaceable Hudson River environment, and the communities that depend on a clean and healthy river."
The Hudson River PCB Superfund site encompasses a nearly 200-mile stretch of the Hudson River from Hudson Falls, New York, downstream to the Battery in New York City. The site is divided into two major areas: the Upper Hudson River, which runs from Hudson Falls downstream to the Federal Dam at Troy (a distance of approximately 40 miles); and the Lower Hudson River, which runs from the Federal Dam at Troy 140 miles downstream to the southern tip of Manhattan at the Battery in New York City.
In February 2002, the EPA finalized a Record of Decision (ROD) for the Upper Hudson River Superfund site to address the contaminated river sediments. The EPA's 2002 ROD selected sediment dredging of highly-contaminated areas to address PCB contamination in the Upper River. GE implemented targeted dredging of approximately 2.65 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment pursuant to the terms of a 2006 Consent Decree, under EPA oversight. This dredging began in spring 2009 and was completed in fall 2015.
Attorney General James found the EPA's Certificate of Completion to be unlawful because the EPA failed to ensure the cleanup would assure the protection of human health and the environment. Recent data reveals PCB concentrations in Hudson River fish remain high - three times higher than the ROD's objective - and, in fact, have remained largely unchanged in the three years since dredging ceased. Studies by the New York State Department of Health and the public interest groups Scenic Hudson and Sierra Club found that many people are eating fish caught from the PCB-contaminated portion of the Hudson River.
The remedial dredging left far more PCBs in river sediments than had been projected in the ROD, and the EPA's evaluation shows the cleanup left behind roughly 13 tons more PCBs in the Upper River than the ROD anticipated. Approximately 54 tons of PCBs remain in the Upper River.
Attorney General James is bringing today's action against the EPA in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. Given the inadequate cleanup of the Hudson River, the suit asks the District Court to vacate the Agency's Certificate of Completion.
Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Executive Director Greg Williams said, "We support New York's suit to force the EPA to hold General Electric to account. Since GE settled the case in 2005, they have spent less than 1.5 percent of its profits on cleaning up the mess it made in the Hudson River. Asking New Yorkers to wait another fifty years to be able to safely eat the fish is neither reasonable, nor lawful."
Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay said, "EPA failed our river and our communities by issuing a certificate of completion to GE for a cleanup that is falling woefully short of its targets. If left unchallenged, EPA's decision could needlessly make it much harder for the agency to get GE to finish cleaning up its mess in the Hudson River. We applaud Governor Cuomo and Attorney General James for calling out EPA's abdication of responsibility and standing up for all New Yorkers who demand a healthy Hudson."
Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Conservation Director Roger Downs said, "Sierra Club applauds Attorney General James for challenging EPA over their erroneous 'Certificate of Completion' for GE's Hudson River PCB cleanup. EPA is allowing tons of PCBs to remain in river sediments knowing that thousands of New Yorkers - many of whom represent low income, immigrant, and minority communities - supplement the food on their families' tables with contaminated fish they catch in the Hudson River. A full cleanup of the Hudson River is not only the most effective and science-based remedy to the problem, it is the kind of justice these communities deserve."
Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan said, "Scenic Hudson applauds Governor Andrew Cuomo for his continued strong leadership on this vital environmental, public health and economic issue affecting both New York State and setting precedents for Superfund sites across the nation. And we thank Attorney General Letitia James for defending the Hudson River and challenging EPA's decision to declare the Hudson River cleanup complete. If EPA is allowed to let General Electric off the hook when the data clearly shows the cleanup has failed to achieve the very goals it set, people of the region will suffer the health and economic consequences, while the integrity of the federal Superfund program will forever be undermined. Fish remain so contaminated by GE's cancer-causing chemical that the New York State Department of Health advises children and women under age 50 to eat no fish along the 200-mile stretch of the river from the foothills of the Adirondacks to New York Harbor. This is unacceptable, and we thank Governor Cuomo and Attorney General James for standing up for the Hudson and people against this lawless act."
This matter is being handled for Attorney General James by Assistant Attorneys General Jamie Woods and Brittany Haner, and Environmental Scientist John Davis of the Environmental Protection Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Lisa M. Burianek and Bureau Chief Lemuel Srolovic. The Environmental Protection Bureau is part of the Attorney General's Division of Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux.