WASHINGTON—In another significant step toward cleaning up polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the Hudson River, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today asked the U.S. District Court in Albany, New York to approve the October 2005 consent decree with the General Electric Company (GE) for the river dredging called for in EPA's 2002 Record of Decision for the Hudson River PCBs Superfund site. The government made its written request to the court after carefully considering the public comments submitted during the comment period, eventually concluding that the settlement reached last year by the government and GE remains appropriate. The submission to the court includes detailed and comprehensive responses to the public comments.
“The settlement reached with GE was designed to meet the immediate and future needs of the people of New York—by removing a large amount of PCBs from the Upper Hudson River and expediting PCB cleanup to improve the health and safety of the environment and citizens,” said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We are pleased to seek the court’s approval of this settlement and we look forward to seeing the benefits of this landmark action.”
“EPA greatly appreciates all the input on the Hudson River consent decree that we received from the public,” said Alan J. Steinberg, EPA Regional Administrator. “After reviewing the comments very carefully, we remain convinced that the consent decree with GE is very much in the public interest. We look forward to the court=s approval of the settlement so that GE can begin the cleanup of the river.”
Dredging of the Hudson River will be done in two phases. The first phase of the dredging will last one year and will remove about 10 percent of the total volume of PCB-contaminated sediment slated for dredging during the full cleanup project. The remaining phase of the dredging is expected to take five years. The ultimate goal is to restore one of the country's most important cultural and ecological resources, using approaches designed to minimize impacts on local communities throughout the life of the project.
If accepted by the court, the consent decree would require that GE construct the sediment transfer/processing facility needed for the project and perform the first phase of the dredging according to design plans being reviewed by EPA. In March 2006, GE submitted the Final Design Report for Phase I of the cleanup to the EPA for review. The report contains key information about the cleanup of the river, including the type of dredging equipment that will be used, hours of operation, and the layout of the sediment transfer/processing facility in Fort Edward, New York.
Following GE's completion of the Phase I dredging, the dredging-to-date will be evaluated by an independent peer review panel, which will consider possible changes to the engineering performance standards that were established by the EPA. The EPA will seek public input during the peer review process.
The EPA will consider the conclusions of the peer review panel and determine whether changes to the performance standards should be made and will inform GE of any modifications that would be required during Phase 2 of the dredging program. GE will then have the option to agree to conduct Phase 2 of the dredging. If the company agrees to perform Phase 2, the work would be carried out under the terms of the consent decree. Because the settlement is comprehensive and addresses both phases of the dredging, it allows for a seamless transition in the event that GE elects to perform Phase 2.
If GE does not agree to conduct the Phase 2 dredging, the EPA fully reserves all of its enforcement authorities, including its right to direct the company to perform the dredging and/or sue in district court to require GE to perform Phase 2 or to reimburse the EPA for its costs if the Agency conducts Phase 2 using government funds.
Additionally, the agreement contains a provision to help ensure that there is no delay in the transition between Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the project. It requires GE to spend up $5 million in transition costs between the end of Phase 1 dredging and the date of GE’s decision whether to conduct Phase 2 in order to avoid delay in the initiation of the second phase of dredging. The consent decree also calls for GE to reimburse the EPA for up to $78 million of the Agency's past and future costs. The EPA has already collected $37 million from GE through past settlements.
The agreement also contains a provision that provides additional health protections for people who may not be fully aware of state restrictions on consuming Hudson River fish. Although New York State is not a party to the settlement, the agreement requires GE to pay that state $3 million to support its efforts to assist the public in understanding and complying with the state fish consumption advisories. GE will provide an additional $1 million to this effort if it decides to conduct the Phase 2 dredging under the consent decree.
The government's submission requesting entry of the consent decree will soon be available on the EPA's Hudson River website at http://www.epa.gov/hudson.