EPA asks federal appeals court to dismiss challenge to Housatonic River cleanup plan
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has asked the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss a challenge to the EPA’s Housatonic River cleanup plan. The appeal was brought by two environmental groups.
The appeal includes arguments that the EPA should send all PCB-contaminated waste to a licensed off-site facility, rather than putting it in a disposal site next to the river.
EPA lawyers argue the two environmental groups — the Housatonic Environmental Action League and the Housatonic River Initiative — haven't shown they have legal standing to challenge the cleanup permit. To do that, they need to show a member of their group has suffered an injury.
Tim Gray, executive director of HRI, said his group proved it has standing previously when it went before the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board.
"We believe this is just another ploy to come after us on standing because they have nothing else," Gray said.
Gray added that he has been injured because he has PCBs on his property that he believes came from the former GE plant in Pittsfield. His property is in Lee, Massachusetts, on the Housatonic River.
The now-closed GE plant, which manufactured electrical transformers, contaminated the river and its floodplains with PCBs for about 45 years.
The EPA’s cleanup plan includes digging up PCBs in parts of the river and shipping the most contaminated sediment to out-of-state facilities. Other PCB waste, with an average of less than 50 parts per million, would be put in a toxic waste disposal site in Lee. The hybrid disposal plan came out of a closed-door mediation.
In an email, a spokesperson for the EPA said the agency can't comment on ongoing litigation.
In a written statement, a GE spokesperson said the agreement to clean up the river "provides for a more comprehensive cleanup than previously contemplated and on an accelerated schedule."
Lawyers filing the appeal have a February deadline for replying to the challenge on standing.
The two environmental groups also pushed back against the EPA’s plan for Monitored Natural Recovery in the lower reaches of the river, south of Great Barrington and in Connecticut. That plan does not require excavating sediment containing PCBs.