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Time for GE to Admit Liability for – and Undertake – a Comprehensive Hudson Cleanup

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Photo: Abigail Jones
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Riverkeeper has an ally in the State Comptroller’s office, as we fight to ensure that General Electric (GE) is not let off the hook for a thorough cleanup of the toxic PCBs that make the Hudson River the nation’s largest Superfund site.

In December, GE dubiously concluded that it is unlikely to have significant liability under the federal Natural Resource Damages Assessment (NRDA) that is meant to compensate the public for injuries to natural resources associated with GE’s past dumping of more than 1.3 million pounds of PCBs in the Hudson River. The company also rejected the call by Riverkeeper and our allies to dredge of 136 acres of highly contaminated “hot spots” that are not part of the current Superfund cleanup.

Photo: Abigail Jones

Photo: Abigail Jones

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli recently formalized his disappointment with General Electric’s specious assessment of its future liability, according to an article in the Albany Times Union.

At the time of its release, both Riverkeeper and the Federal NRDA Trustees called GE’s report misleading and insincere (see here and here), and Riverkeeper has been calling for the State to take a firm stance against GE’s continued antics. We want to see DiNapoli re-issue the formal shareholder resolution which would force an independent assessment of GE’s undeniable NRDA liability. As administrator of the State’s pension fund, which is heavily invested in GE stock, DiNapoli wields unique power as a shareholder.

In a May 9, 2014 letter to GE Vice President Ann Klee, the Comptroller rebuked GE’s assessment of its liabilities, particularly the company’s failure to seriously consider and address navigational dredging and/or economic loss related to the presence of PCBs in the Champlain Canal.

Over half of the 136 acres of identified additional hot spots is within the navigation channel. Such severe contamination has prevented the New York State Canal Corporation from dredging the navigation channel to its legally-required depth for over 30 years and has left the canal too shallow for nearly all commercial traffic. Failure to maintain the navigation channel has created an economic loss for businesses and communities in the Hudson Valley.
The NRDA process will require GE to compensate the public for this loss of resources and economic deprivation – a liability that GE simply cannot deny.

But there is another layer of potential future liability regarding the navigation channel that GE and the Comptroller are overlooking and which could lead to serious damages being levied against GE.

In 2000, New York State sued GE in state court seeking damages for nuisance, trespass, and the company’s obstruction of navigation, and requiring GE to carry out or pay for the dredging of PCB-contaminated sediment in the navigation channel. (Dredging and disposal of PCB-contaminated sediment is orders of magnitude more expensive than non-contaminated sediment.)

While that case was dismissed without prejudice as being unripe at the time, the New York State Canal Corp. has filed for the necessary dredging permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the approval or denial of which could be catalyst for the State’s case to be filed again. If successful, GE could be required to pay possibly hundreds of millions of dollars to dredge the navigation channel. Such a severe potential liability cannot be overlooked by GE, the Comptroller, or the citizens of the State.

With the penultimate dredging season already begun, the New York State Comptroller should not sit idly by while time runs out. The Comptroller should take a stronger stance against GE’s antics and require the shareholder resolution independent assessment of GE’s liability now, before GE is out of the River and the dewatering facility decommissioned within the next few years.

And GE should put aside its self-serving tactics and take responsibility for all of its liability associated with its decades-long contamination of the world-renowned Hudson River. GE should immediately and sincerely respond to the Federal NRDA Trustees’ invitations for a cooperative agreement to dredge the additional PCB hot spots – including the navigation channel – now thereby decreasing its future NRDA and civil liability.

Should GE continue on its path of arrogance, however, Riverkeeper will continue to hold GE accountable for its damage to the Hudson River. Riverkeeper will not stop fighting until the Hudson River is a clean and prosperous river.

** Riverkeeper encourages you to attend the next Hudson River PCB Community Advisory Group (CAG) meeting being held on June 26, 2014, beginning at 1:00 pm at the Saratoga Town Hall in Schuylerville, NY.

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