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Alan Chartock: I Publius — a bad PCB settlement deal

The settlement worked out by the Environmental Protection Administration is not exactly popular with those who are trying to save our world from catastrophe.

Last week, Publius wrote on the very bad deal that would let General Electric off the hook by paying out some money to five towns and burying in a quarry in Lee the PCBs dredged from the Housatonic River.

Now I want to take a moment to question the view of some, as reflected in an editorial in a local paper, who have opined in favor of what I, and a lot of other very angry people, think is a bad and potentially dangerous deal. The proponents of this PCB Rest of River cleanup settlement argue that “a river contaminated with potentially cancer-causing chemicals has long been an albatross for a region that celebrates its natural beauty. The cleanup process ahead will be a long one and not always a pretty one, as the river is cleaned and trucks containing sediments roll through the streets.” So far so good, but then comes the very mistaken conclusion that so many people take issue with: “But the end would be worth it.”

This is a mistaken analysis since it assumes there is no other choice: Either bury the stuff or continue to have PCBs in the beautiful river. The whole idea of the long- running negotiation was to make GE accountable for cleaning up its mess. So, the outcome seems to be that instead of making GE move the product of its mistake to another place that does not bring risk to the men, women and children of the Berkshires — or develop a process that neutralizes the contamination — a very unwise decision was made to punk out and take a bad deal. No one said that this was the only available choice. It certainly wasn’t and isn’t. Better, those who were negotiating should have stuck to their guns and made GE do the right thing.

The settlement worked out by the Environmental Protection Administration is not exactly popular with those who are trying to save our world from catastrophe. Let’s remember just who sits at the top of that pile. Donald Trump has made a mockery of that agency, putting in charge the worst possible anti-environment choices. Apparently, the EPA has negotiated with the “Rest of River Municipal Committee” in order to “avoid a court fight with General Electric that the corporation had a good chance of winning.”

Of course, “Mr. Green” (money) figures prominently into the agreement, with some major money being paid out to some of the towns to buy into the settlement. We are told that the really bad stuff will be trucked elsewhere. And just who will decide what gets buried and what gets moved? The burial site is at the Lane Construction Quarry in Lee, which, is “at least 1,000 feet from the river.” GE says it will abandon two other landfill sites, one of which was in Housatonic, that it wanted to use.

The point is that we really don’t know what the downsides of this deal are. I was recently speaking to a friend who asked, “Does anyone remember Love Canal and what happened there?” And, the question remains: Were there better choices that were not considered — or were rejected — by the EPA simply because they would have cost GE too much money?

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