General Electric has agreed to carry out the next phase of cleanup on the Hudson River, decades after polluting the waterway with toxins. The announcement came Thursday, a few days after the Environmental Protection Agency laid out a comprehensive cleanup plan. The plan would restore a 40-mile stretch of the river, north of Albany.
In a statement, Ann Klee, the company's VP of Corporate Environmental Programs, said the agreement came after "intensive" discussions with the EPA.
“GE has consistently said it wanted to complete the dredging and now looks forward to doing so under terms that achieve the scientific objectives of dredging in a practical and cost-effective way,” Klee said. “We are proud of having met each and every one of our many commitments to EPA on this project, and we will continue to do so.”
To one activist on the issue, the announcement by GE represented a "watershed" moment.
"Today's decision is truly the light at the end of the tunnel, heralding a day when everyone will be able to enjoy a clean and healthy river, consume its fish without fear of adverse health impacts," said Ned Sullivan, the head of Scenic Hudson, who has worked on the issue for about 25 years.
To Sullivan and other activists, the drawback of the agreement lies in its scope: about 21 percent of the entire area polluted by the company will not be dredged, but will be left under caps, made of gravel and other materials. Capping is regarded by environmentalists as a temporary measure, one that leaves open the risk of PCBs re-entering the water.
But Sullivan said the cleanup, which he predicted will take six to seven years, would set a "national standard," and by restoring the river's health, would help lure jobs back to the affected areas.
GE said it would take a $500 million after-tax charge, in order to help pay for the cleanup.