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
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
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.