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EPA to GE: Good to go on Housatonic River cleanup

WOODSPONDPCB2020-3.jpg (copy) (copy) (copy)

This aerial view of Woods Pond shows the Housatonic River entering the pond at the north end. The Upland Disposal Facility for lower-level PCBs is planned for near the south end in Lee. On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency notified the General Electric Co. that the existing cleanup plan has survived a legal challenge within the EPA. Opponents still can take their fight to the 1st Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

PITTSFIELD — The Environmental Protection Agency’s approach to removing toxins from the Housatonic River, first outlined in broad terms two years ago, now is official.

But, opponents have not exhausted their legal options.

Having just turned back a challenge within its own system, the EPA notified the General Electric Co. on Monday that it should proceed with a cleanup that will allow it to bury 1 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediments in a Lee landfill.

David W. Cash, the EPA’s regional administrator, notified a GE executive in Pittsfield that, as of Tuesday, his agency’s “revised final permit” for the Rest of River project is “fully enforceable.”

That plan calls for about a decade of work to remove soils tainted with polychlorinated biphenyls due to releases from a former GE transformer plant in Pittsfield.

Cash was required by law to issue a final permit decision after the Environmental Appeals Board decided, on Feb. 8, to dismiss challenges from two environmental groups of the EPA’s latest directive on the cleanup, which it released in December 2020.

Tim Gray, executive director of the Housatonic River Initiative, said in a February interview that the groups will take their case against the Lee dump and the overall cleanup plan to the 1st Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Two justices with the EAB ruled, after seven months of deliberation, that the EPA was justified in changing course on how it would require GE to handle soils contaminated with PCBs.

In February 2020, the agency revealed, after a secretive mediation process, that it would allow GE to bury most of the PCB-tainted sediments pulled from the river in a specially designed Lee landfill.

GE polluted the Housatonic over many decades. Previously, the EPA required GE to ship all PCBs removed from the river to facilities outside Massachusetts.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Managing editor for innovation

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.

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