GE to dispute $1.58M EPA bill

Sunday July 8, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- General Electric Co. is going ahead with a formal dispute of a $1.58 million bill from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agen cy, calling it "improper and contrary" to an agreement between the parties that deals with PCB contamination re leased from its former Pitts field plant.

GE in an 18-page letter to the EPA says it’s not responsible for the bill because the company has already paid the maximum amount for work that fall under categories with capped payments. The 1999 Consent Decree, the agreement governing the cleanup of PCB-contaminated sites in the city and the Housatonic River, cap’s GE’s so-called "oversight" costs at $11 million.

The EPA claims the bill, which pertains to costs in curred in 2011, falls under an uncapped category of "future response costs" that covers enforcement of the Consent Decree and the preparation of the action plan for the river south of Fred Garner Park, commonly referred to as the Rest of River.

Attempts by both parties to resolve the issue through in formal negotiations failed after passing a June 8 self-imposed deadline. Last Tues day, GE submitted the document supporting its dispute. The EPA has 14 days to respond, though extensions can be granted.

An EPA spokesman said the agency plans to respond with its own supporting document.

The dispute will be handled by the EPA’s Office of Site Remediation and Restor ation. Either party will then have the right to appeal the ruling in federal court, though none of the previous disputes between the parties has thus far risen to that level.

The Consent Decree allows the EPA to recoup certain costs from GE that it incurs as a result of its work connected to contamination from the former Pittsfield plant, where the probable cancer-causing chemical was used in transformer manufacturing until most uses were banned by the federal government in 1977. To date, GE says it has reimbursed the EPA in excess of $90 million for its expenses.

Part of GE’s argument centers on a 2010 study it conducted on remedial alternatives for the Rest of River. Per prescribed rules in the Consent Decree, the EPA must either reject, accept or conditionally accept the study. The EPA has yet to do so, and GE claims the fees incurred should be disqaulifed because the EPA is acting outside the bounds of their agreement.

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