Wednesday May 2, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- General Electric Co. is contesting a $1.56 million bill from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for work associated with the Housatonic River cleanup.

In a 16-page letter to the EPA, GE says it shouldn't be made to pay the bill because the company has already paid the maximum amount for so-called "oversight" costs. The 1999 Consent Decree, the agreement on the cleanup of PCB-contaminated sites in the city and the Housatonic, caps GE's oversight payments at $11 million.

The EPA isn't classifying $1.56 million as oversight costs. Instead, the EPA says the bill falls under an uncapped category that covers enforcement of the Consent Decree and the preparation of the action plan for the river south of Fred Garner Park, commonly known as the Rest of River.

The Consent Decree allows the EPA to recoup certain costs from GE that it incurs as a result of the PCB cleanup.

GE says the bill pertains to 2011 tasks such as review and evaluation of the alternatives in the GE study, evaluation of other cleanup alternatives, preparation of public outreach materials and public presentations -- including the three-day mini workshops held at Shakespeare & Company -- and review by other EPA boards.

EPA spokesman Jim Murphy said GE and the EPA are in discussions to resolve the dispute over the bill.

Both sides told The Eagle they hope to resolve the dispute through informal talks. But if it isn't resolved, the matter could wind up in U.S. District Court.

Murphy declined to comment on GE's assertions about the $1.56 million bill. He said the EPA won't be responding with a formal letter to GE at this point.

"That's something that if we don't resolve it informally, then we will have to do," Murphy said.

To date, GE has reimbursed the EPA in excess of $90 million for all of EPA's expenses as mandated by the Consent Decree, according to company spokesman Andrew Williams. Those expenses go above and beyond oversight costs.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are probable cancer-causing chemicals. GE used the chemical in the production of transformers at its former Pittsfield plant. PCBs were leaked, spilled or dumped at the plant and into the Housatonic River. GE stopped using PCBs in 1977, the same year most of its uses were banned by the federal government.

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In brief ...

What GE says: It shouldn't have to pay $1.56 million to the EPA because it's already paid the maximum allowable amount in ‘oversight' costs.

What EPA says: The amount isn't part of capped oversight costs, and is part of an uncapped category that covers enforcement of GE's agreement.