Lawmakers criticize EPA's handling of PCB cleanup in Hudson River Dredging decision repeatedly delayed

March 08, 1998|By ALBANY TIMES UNION

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Five members of Congress have criticized the Environmental Protection Agency for again delaying a decision on whether to dredge the Hudson River to remove PCBs.

In a letter sent to EPA Administrator Carol Browner, Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey, a Hudson Valley Democrat, voiced "serious disappointment" in the agency's announcement this year to push back its decision on dredging.

"At a time when Congress is on the brink of reauthorizing Superfund, we are concerned that the Hudson could become a leading example of the program's inability to resolve difficult and unusual sites," the letter said. Hinchey's letter was signed by Democrats Michael R. McNulty and Nita M. Lowey and Republicans Sue W. Kelly and Benjamin A. Gilman.

Two decades after Superfund was enacted, the federal toxic waste cleanup program is being hotly debated in the Republican-controlled Congress.

The EPA reassessment of its original 1984 decision not to dredge began in 1990 and was to be completed in two years. Last month, the EPA said it had implemented changes in its assessment methodology that would again delay its decision, until at least 2001, probably later.

The deadline has been postponed at least a dozen times.

A spokesman for the EPA's New York regional office said more delays were necessary after Browner's decision late last year to beef up the review by outside scientists of the agency's technical findings. Such added and painstaking caution is a product of the EPA's near-certainty that its decision will be severely tested by environmental groups or the General Electric Co., which dumped most of the PCBs now in the river's sediment.

"We are operating under the assumption that whatever decision we make, somebody is going to be unhappy and somebody is going to sue us," spokesman Richard Stapleton said. "You want the science to be as good as it can possibly be."

Used as a fire retardant and legally discharged into the environment for four decades, polychlorinated biphenyls were banned in 1976 and have been linked to cancer in lab animals.

In a recent telephone interview from Washington, Hinchey called yet another delay "inexcusable."

"Everyone knows the source of the problem," he said. "Everyone knows the damage to the river."

Pub Date: 3/08/98

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