Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers
 
 

 

The Next Victim in Bush's War on the Environment - The Hudson, DiFrancesco or Us?

By John Peterson Myers and Lisa A. Guide

New Jersey Star Ledger, 11 April 2001.

When President Bush undercut Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman - reversing her publicly on emissions reductions and global warming - the political shorthand for these flip-flops was universal: Whitman got rolled.

Today's question is: are acting Governor Di Francesco and New York Governor Pataki about to suffer the same humiliation on the environment? If President Bush reverses the Environmental Protection Agency's draft decision to remove PCB's from the Hudson River, the answer is yes.

The case of the Hudson River is an environmental psychodrama even Steven Segall would find humbling. The Hudson is the country's largest toxic waste site. It was polluted with PCB's by General Electric, the world's largest corporation. The Environmental Protection Agency has a draft plan that says GE has to dredge the carcinogens out of the river. GE is run by a CEO chieftain with a larger than life personality -- "Neutron" Jack Welch -- so nicknamed for his scorched earth management policies. Welch once said the only way to be successful in today's business world was to constantly operate on "the lunatic fringe." GE has fought responsibility for cleaning up the river for two decades, even though the current cost of cleanup - $450 million - equals 5.6 days of profit for GE.

Enter our political players: Eastern Republican moderates Whitman, Pataki and DiFrancesco; and western conservative President George W. Bush. In each decision where he has had to choose between corporate interests and stronger health, safety or environmental rules, Bush has chosen big business every time. GE has made stonewalling on the Hudson cleanup its signature issue. Even Fortune magazine says GE should give up and do the right thing, but their massive public relations and legal campaign to avoid responsibility goes on unatoned.

The involvement of the three Republican moderates complicates things for Bush. Di Francesco has a bruising election battle looming this spring. He hasn't taken a stand on the Hudson yet, but he needs to look both green, and influential with the White House. Pataki grew up on the river and supports the EPA plan. EPA chief Whitman is on record as supporting the dredging. How far away from her principles can she move in this Faustian drama? Can she bear to once more take the stage and support a position she previously abhorred - this time directly affecting her native state?

What will Bush do? Support the Republican governors, or support the big corporation?
Here's what he should do.

He should support the best science and the best solution to rid the river of health threats to people and wildlife. That means he should, at the very least, support the EPA's draft plan. The facts are immutable. Every year 500 pounds of PCBs wash over the Troy Dam and flow toward New Jersey waters. Fully fifty percent of the PCB's in New York harbor were put there by GE.

And what does science say? The weight of the evidence strongly says PCBs are a risk to human health. It's not just cancer, were that not enough. Multiple studies from the US and from Europe reveal PCBs' impacts on the ways that the brain and the immune system develop. Kids exposed to even modest levels of PCBs in the womb have reduced intelligence and are not as able to resist disease as children with less exposure. Animal experiments support this work by showing that animals exposed in the womb reliably suffer from PCB exposure. Because the human epidemiology of PCBs is complicated by several problems, including simultaneous exposure to multiple contaminants, long delays between exposure and effect, and the difficulty of establishing good estimates of actual exposure in the womb, all of the human studies fall short of the highest-and perhaps unattainable-standards of scientific certainty. But together, combined with corroborative work on animals where experimentation is possible, the weight of the evidence is enough to convince reasonable scientists unbound by economic interests that PCBs represent a clear and present danger to human health.

Its not only good science --- its good politics. We know at least three Republican leaders who would agree.

 

 

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