GE continues fight with green groups following EPA order to cleanHudson

NEW YORK: Despite the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) draft

ruling to order the biggest environmental dredging plan in US history,

the issue's major combatants have no plans to step down their 20-year,

multimillion-dollar PR war.



The plan, issued by EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman, calls for

the removal of 100,000 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from a

heavily polluted 40-mile stretch of the Hudson River north of Albany,

NY. Approximately 1.1 million pounds of the chemicals were spilled

and/or dumped by GE from the mid-1940s until 1977, when PCBs were

banned. Interested parties have 30 days to comment on the EPA

proposal.



Environmental nonprofit group Riverkeeper credited its PR campaign and

recent lobbying of Whitman as turning points in the PCB war. This

summer, the group spent $85,000 on PR and advertising to spread

its message that PCBs pose a serious human health risk to area

residents, and that GE should be responsible for PCB removal. Alex

Matthiessen, executive director of Riverkeeper, said the campaign

resulted in public pressure for Whitman to meet with Riverkeeper, which

he said led her to reverse course and endorse the Clintonera plan for

PCB removal. The next step, according to Matthiessen, will be to lobby

GE to endorse Whitman's decision.



"Our public message is now an appeal to GE to fire their lawyers and put

their scientists to work, helping us come up with an effective plan,"

said Matthiessen. "If they choose not to do that, if they choose to

continue with lawyers, ads, intimidation, and lobbying, we will fight

even harder to attack them publicly and to mobilize the citizens of New

York and New Jersey to send a clear message to GE that they should

either clean this thing up, or they can take their business

elsewhere."



That message, said Gary Sheffer, a GE spokesman who specializes in

environmental and public affairs, is extortion.



"That sounds more like a threat to me than someone who is interested in

an honest discussion," said Sheffer. "We will continue to make it clear

that our position is supported by good science."



According to GE, the company has spent between $10 million and

$15 million on PR related to this issue. Sheffer, who said he had

not seen the EPA draft, said he did not anticipate a change in GE's PR

surrounding PCB cleanup.



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