Conn. lawmakers push EPA to extend Housatonic River cleanup comment period

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Three Connecticut members of Congress are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to extend the public comment period on its latest Housatonic River cleanup plan.

In a letter dated Tuesday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Sen. Christopher Murphy and Rep. Jahana Hayes asked EPA attorney Tim Conway to allow public comment to continue through Nov. 20. The final public hearing was held Tuesday evening, and the written comment period is scheduled to expire on Friday.

The Housatonic Environmental Action League and the Housatonic River Initiative had previously asked for an extension on July 23. The EPA added a public hearing and pushed the end of written comment back two weeks from Sept. 2 to Friday.

“Though appreciated, these efforts are insufficient given the extent of this Permit, and do little to ease restrictions on the ability of citizen stakeholders to effectively engage in the EPA’s permitting process for this area,” the letter reads. “The EPA’s expectation for citizen stakeholders to read and understand countless pages of complex documents and then attempt to write meaningful comments, all in the span of just over two months, is unreasonable.”

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The Housatonic River Initiative, which believes the cleanup agreement fails to hold General Electric accountable for polluting the river with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) over several decades, reacted favorably to the letter.

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"That's big news that senators are calling to stall the end of the comment period,” said Executive Director Tim Gray. "That’s pretty strong."

State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said Wednesday that he wasn't aware of calls to extend the comment period but believed doing so would likely be helpful.

“My instinct is that the issue is too important and the circumstances in which people are operating include a global pandemic, and so that there should be maximum flexibility for public input,” he said.

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State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, said Wednesday that she believes "extending the comment period only makes the process better."

Hinds also referred The Eagle to a Feb. 10 statement in which he called the cleanup agreement "the best the towns and the city could expect, given the alternatives," but said it was "regrettable" that "our laws, regulations and precedent allow for less than a full cleanup."

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle's Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.


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