It was twenty years ago today
December 11, 2000 12:17 AM   Subscribe

It was twenty years ago today Sergeant - er, President Carter signed into law the EPA's Superfund Program for the cleanup of toxic waste sites. Today, after the program has cleaned hundreds of sites, General Electric is suing to have the law overturned.
posted by Aaaugh! (14 comments total)
i expect to hear more about this in ralph nader speeches.
posted by will at 12:41 AM on December 11, 2000

My guess would be that a Bush-led EPA would grant GE clemency over the Hudson, just to piss off Hillary.
posted by holgate at 7:11 AM on December 11, 2000

Read the fine print folks.

Here is specifically why this is happening:

In this case GE might have the best idea for keeping things clean.
posted by ooklah at 8:15 AM on December 11, 2000

From Fox News, that notoriously unbiased source. And from a member of the Cato Institute, that notorious libertarian thinktank. Ahem. Allow me to pollute the Hudson with a whole sackload of salt.

Naomi Klein makes the point in No Logo that the protest against Shell's decision to sink the Brent Spar oil platform may not have been driven by "good science", but by the gut feeling that we don't know enough about the marine ecosystem to feel confident about dumping our shit there. Same applies here.
posted by holgate at 9:11 AM on December 11, 2000

Ooklah: Just as a media-criticism note, that link comes from the "Junk Science" column at the conservative-leaning Fox News; previously, for instance, the column has defended 20/20 reporter John Stossel ("the media critic's barreled fish," to quote my friend Bob) when he was forced to apologize for making up facts in his story on organic food.

That's not to say that GE might not be right in this instance, but I'd personally take that story with a grain of salt.
posted by snarkout at 9:17 AM on December 11, 2000

Holgate: Ya beat me to it!

I'm always dubious when I hear the phrase "junk science." It usually signifies an attack on Luddites who ignore scientific opinion and complain about genetically-engineered crop or a screed about personal injury cases based on dubious science. It never, ever seems to mean someone's going after the global warming deniers in the fossil fuel industry for their blithe dismissal of science they don't like.
posted by snarkout at 9:24 AM on December 11, 2000

Yep: you'll always find contrarians, mainly because their opinions are often lucrative. That piece on was nothing more than contrarian opinion.
posted by holgate at 11:34 AM on December 11, 2000

Let me see if I understand this: GE got a permit from the government to dump PCBs. Later, the government decides that it was wrong to permit the dumping. The government then sues the company to which it granted the permit.

The government should pay half. At least.
posted by lileks at 11:54 AM on December 11, 2000

I see...and the government's money comes from who?

Why...that's right! Us! The taxpayers! The same people who brought you the S&L Bailout!

GE can go and figurative themselves. They made the mess, they should clean it up. And the people who allowed them to do this in the first place should be put to work on the dredge crews.

posted by RakDaddy at 12:19 PM on December 11, 2000

I'm always amused by the switcheroo pulled by this "junk science" crapola. "There is nothing more sacred than profit, therefore you, the environmental activist, must prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are messing up the environment." With, of course, the standard of proof set by the corporate polluters. "See, we only killed half the fish. That's not so bad."

Because, of course, nothing is more sacred than profit.
posted by dhartung at 1:10 PM on December 11, 2000

[lileks] The government should pay half.

[RakDaddy] and the government's money comes from who? .... [GE] made the mess, they should clean it up.

With the government's explicit approval. As long as the government approved the activity at the time, I don't see how you can possibly put GE at full fault. There's that little tidbit in the Constitution... something about ex post facto perhaps?

Since requiring GE to pay for a dredge is essentially punitive, the power should lie in a court to decide who should pay for whatever remedial action should be taken another annoying little issue of "due process." Since their actions were not against the law at the time, I don't see how they can be punished for it.

All that said, I have no trust for GE's scientists when they claim to have a better (and also a half-billion-dollar-cheaper) solution.

Standard disclaimer: I haven't fully researched the issue. I'm ranting based on the facts given from the articles linked to. Please reply with any corrections or additions. Thanks!
posted by daveadams at 1:32 PM on December 11, 2000

Excellent point, Dave. Yes, the government said it was cool to dump PCBs and then later told GE to clean 'em up. This whole thing isn't entirely GE's problem. However, if they knew back then that PCBs were evil and then bought out legislation to make it okay to dump the stuff, then I say we bring the hammer down on 'em.

I get a little prickly about industrial pollution issues 'cause I work in the shadow of a Chevron refinery that exists and gets away with God knows what because the city of El Segundo lets 'em. The local rag gives Chevron the front page whenever they do Something Good (like having Christmas caroling or adopting a classroom), while no one bothers to do stories on the mule-choking smells that come out of there every day. Or about the gunk that gets flushed offshore. Or the fact that, beyond the beauty curtain of ivy and trees on the perimeter, the refinery itself looks like an apocalyptic wasteland.

posted by RakDaddy at 1:59 PM on December 11, 2000

Wow, where will GE ever come up with the money?
posted by harmful at 12:59 PM on December 12, 2000

Let me kindly respond for clarity now that my statement has really gotten the discussion rolling. I'm not saying that GE is right in every case. What I am saying is that:

a) some times the zealots behind the laws can often carry them to extremes without be willing to accept that sometime the corporation might be right.

b) If permission was given by the government at the time the corporation should not be liable for actions if they were within the confines of the agreement. I think a responsible corporation would offer to help for public image sake if nothing else.

I think the point regarding GE's scientists may be valid but do we know that the group that did the research is tied to GE directly? Don't corporations usually hire independent groups to do this sort of thing for just such arguments? Also, what about the data from a previous dredging? With a grain of salt, just because it comes from a GE report does that make it invalid if it has the science have to back it up?

EPA's own computer model of the Hudson and prior dredging projects indicate that the EPA plan won't make things better.

PCBs in Wisconsin's Fox River were 12 times higher downstream than upstream during a recent dredging project. At a dredging project on New York's Grasse River, PCBs in fish increased 20 to 50 times during dredging and remained elevated for several years after dredging, according to a GE report.

Lastly, I will tolerate some Criticism of the news source however, if you guys blast Fox for being conservative leaning, I have to blast the other 99% of the media for being liberal leaning which is hardly a fair or unbiased skew on that side either.

posted by ooklah at 6:45 AM on December 13, 2000

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