Bill designed to delay $500 million Hudson River PCB cleanup
North Carolina Representative Charles Taylor’s (R-11) staff added language to a budget bill in 2005 to favor General Electric (GE) Corporation.
In fact, according to the Albany Times-Union a member of Taylor’s staff said GE drafted the initial language. The legislation then went back and forth between the congressional staff and the company before it was added to last year’s appropriations bill.
The company gave $8,250 to Taylor in 2003-04, making it Taylor’s seventh-largest donor, according to campaign finance records kept by the Center for Responsive Politics at its website. According to the site, the company was not one of Taylor’s top 20 contributors in 2001-02 or 1999-2000.
According to both GE and Taylor's staff, a proposal to study dredging of polychlorinated biphenyl oils (PDB) grew out of their meetings instigated by Taylor’s staff after, in February 2005, the EPA came under the jurisdiction of the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, which Taylor chairs.
However, the EPA had already done extensive studies on the best way to remove PCB contamination.
General Electric has a vested interest in proposals to remove PCB contamination. Before PCBs were banned in 1977, the international corporation, which in 2005 earned $16.4 billion in profits, dumped or leaked an estimated 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyl oils into the river. The Hudson was named a Superfund site in 1984.
The EPA studied PCB pollution in the Hudson River for 12 years before issuing its dredging decision in 2001, agency spokesman Leo Rosales said. "The proposed remedy was studied by an independent panel of experts, nationally and internationally," he said. "We've done our homework on this project. We stand behind our decision. It's going to work."
Dredging is a process through which toxic muck is removed by pipe or scoop from the bottom of a river, lake, or bay.
According to the Times-Union,
Before GE agreed in 2002 to pay for planning the Hudson River cleanup, it had fought dredging for years, arguing that it was more effective to thoroughly clean the source of pollution and then to let the PCBs that had seeped into the river naturally dissipate or remain buried.
GE employees told the Taylor staffers that disputes lingered over whether dredging was the best way to clean up contaminated sites.
Robert Goldstein, who directs the Hudson River Program of Riverkeepers, a non-profit member-supported organization dedicated to the health of the Hudson River, told Asheville Mountain Express last year:
There’s no doubt this study could derail cleanup of the Hudson.
Goldstein also pointed out:
What we don’t need is another study of the most-studied river in the country. And it’s surprising that this is coming from a congressman from North Carolina. We’re dumbfounded.
The possibility of further delay for this project, ordered to begin in 2002, continues to evoke strong feelings far north of Taylor’s usual stomping grounds. The Poughkeepsie Journal wrote, “Nothing, repeat nothing, should further delay an ambitious cleanup that already has been far too long in the making.
The EPA, which is still negotiating with GE on planning for the dredging, refused comment on Taylor's move. But several newspaper articles quoted EPA spokesman Leo Rosales, who noted in 2001:
This site has been studied for many years, and we have the data to prove that this is the best thing for the river, for the environment, and for the communities here. We've done our homework, we stand behind the science and the remedy selected.
Business writer Daren Fonda, in a 2005 Time magazine article on GE’s stated interest in a new eco-friendliness, wrote:
GE has a history of opposing environmental regulations that don’t suit the firm
Meanwhile, back in Taylor’s home district, residents are largely uninformed about the controversy. The only newspaper to print one word, Asheville’s Mountain Express,commented extensively on the conundrum:
Rep. Charles Taylor's name has been all over the newspapers lately. But chances are, most of his constituents haven't seen these articles, because they're appearing in New York papers. That makes perfect sense, given that Taylor's latest legislative initiative could have a significant impact on that state's Hudson River – one of the most polluted in the country.
Taylor maintains that the proposed legislation is not intended to obstruct the cleanup. But Rich Schiafo of Scenic Hudson, a nonprofit environmental group working to protect the Hudson River Valley, calls Taylor's bill "disconcerting in a number of ways. Historically, GE has spared no expense in fighting the cleanup of the Hudson. Our biggest concern is that [the bill] will delay or derail the cleanup.
GE, says Schiafo, has long maintained that the best way to clean up PCB-contaminated rivers isn't dredging but "source control" (limiting or eliminating pollution from the point of origin) and "natural recovery" (leaving the PCBs where they are). Taylor's bill (HR 2361) specifically instructs the EPA to "enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences to examine remedial actions at contaminated sediment sites ... [and consider whether] such risk reduction benefits will be achieved significantly faster than other less costly remedial alternatives including source control and natural recovery.
Taylor’s GE-written bill died in the Senate. GE still has the option to legally challenge an EPA order to perform the cleanup as well as sue the agency for costs.
why would a congressman representing Western North Carolina concern himself with the best way to clean up a river in New York rather than, say, the French Broad? An Albany paper is offering one possible answer: Because General Electric asked him to.
More facts on the GE cleanup and Taylor’s involvement:
• GE has reserved the cash for the Hudson cleanup, estimated to cost $500 million, and currently has posted on its website a project design.
• The start date listed on the website: May 2006.
• the company petitioned the EPA March 2006, to delay the project until 2008.
• Their proposed plan includes the building of several major new facilities.
• East Flat Rock, Henderson County, NC, is home to the only superfund cleanup site owned by General Electric located in Taylor’s district. The site cleanup concluded in 1997.
• Roger France, who for 13 years served as Taylor’s chief of staff, currently lobbies for General Electric’s on environmental issues and did so during the writing of the bill that proposed further study
GE cites possible dredge delay, likely to push the project to 2008 EPA says Hudson River cleanup can still begin next year
March 23, 2006, Albany Times Union
GE denies link to efforts for an agreement to conduct Hudson River dredging
May 13, 2005 Albany Times Union
In their own words: General Electric co-authors legislation introduced by Taylor
Jun 15, 2005 Mountain Express