Trump’s EPA Could Shake Up GE’s Housatonic Cleanup

It's open to new negotiations on removing toxins.

Housatonic River

The Housatonic River photo by WBUR Boston’s NPR News Station via Flickr/Creative Commons

President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency may take some of the heat off General Electric and its years-long cleanup effort at Massachusetts’ Housatonic River.

As part of a nationwide effort to reconsider environmental mandates and regulations, the ongoing process of removing toxic sludge from the river could possibly be curtailed. The EPA says it’s open to renegotiating the terms of the plan—GE was ordered in 2015 to undertake a cleanup—all over again. That has environmentalists and river-adjacent communities nervous.

“Looks like Massachusetts is about to become Exhibit A in the Trump administration’s efforts to go easy on polluters,” lawyer Matt Pawa, who represents pro-cleanup towns, tells the Globe. Dennis Regan, Berkshires director of the Housatonic Valley Association, tells the Berkshire Eagle, “We’re in the dark ages right now for the environment.”

GE spokesperson Jeff Caywood said the company welcomes “settlement negotiations with the parties to explore the possibility of expediting a common-sense solution that meets our commitment to a comprehensive cleanup,” the Globe reports.

GE has so far spent $500 million removing toxins from the river dating back to the 1990s. GE polluted the river with PCBs from a factory in Pittsfield between the 1930s and 1970s, and environmentalists have long called for an aggressive and thorough cleaning that, if done to their liking, would reportedly cost more than $1 billion.

The new initiative at the EPA comes as Trump has slashed the budget of the agency, appointed an EPA opponent and climate science skeptic to lead it, and directed the agency to roll back environmental protections and regulations.

This is the latest development in a long battle between the EPA and the company, which has moved its headquarters from Connecticut to Boston. Last year, it fought with regulators over rules about dumping sludge in landfills. It has argued it should be allowed to dump the toxins culled from the river during the cleanup to spots near the water in the Berkshires, which is prohibited by a law that requires it be taken out of the state. An EPA hearing on that issue slated for Thursday in Washington, D.C. has been delayed for 90 days.