Baker sees GE move, ties to Housatonic as 'separate issue'

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BOSTON — A dispute between General Electric and federal environmental officials is a "separate issue" from the company's forthcoming move to Boston from Connecticut, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday.

State and Boston officials announced last month that GE would move its global headquarters to the South Boston waterfront in a deal involving more than $145 million in state and city financial incentives. In western Massachusetts, the Housatonic River, near a former GE industrial facility in Pittsfield, has been the site of ongoing Environmental Protection Agency cleanup efforts.

The agency last year issued a remedy plan for contamination at the site, which GE disputed administratively.

"That has been a legal dispute with some progress made, in fairness to the federal government and to GE over the course of the past 25 years, and we made very clear when the conversation with GE began that we were not going to join these issues, that we felt they should be dealt with separately," Baker said during his monthly "Ask the Governor" segment on WGBH Radio. "If GE wanted to come and locate in Massachusetts, we'd be perfectly happy to talk about that, but the larger question associated with their dispute and their engagement with the EPA around the cleanup of the Housatonic is a separate issue and should be dealt with separately."

In her own radio appearance on Wednesday, Auditor Suzanne Bump offered a personal take based on her experiences living near the EPA cleanup site.

"As someone who now makes their home in the Berkshires, in the village of Housatonic, through which the Housatonic River runs from Pittsfield down to Long Island Sound, I'm well aware of the fact that the river has been so polluted by PCBs because of GE's presence some years ago, some decades ago in Pittsfield," Bump said on Boston Herald's "Morning Meeting." "It's so polluted that you can't eat fish from the river, and there is a great deal of contention that has been going on for years as to how much more of the river they need to clean up."

There has been a ban on the consumption of fish from parts of the Housatonic River since 1977 because of the possibility of coming into contact with PCB contamination, according to the EPA.

PCBs are a group of man-made organic chemicals that can cause adverse health effects and were contained in electrical transformers manufactured and serviced at GE in Pittsfield from 1932 to 1977. The EPA banned the production of PCBs in 1979.

"I'm not ready to say that GE shouldn't be welcomed here, that there won't be some benefit, but I do think that we need to have some eyes open about the pros and cons," Bump said.

Baker said that since the GE move was announced in January he has heard from consuls general and ambassadors that businesses in other countries are now also looking into relocating to or opening up in Massachusetts.

"We don't have any idea what the benefits of having GE here will be, but I think we shouldn't underestimate the fact that we could create a lot of jobs and a lot of employment out of this," he said.


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