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If you believe President Bush, Kenneth Lay--one of his top financial backers and his "good friend"--was merely an equal-opportunity corrupter of our political system, buying off Democrats and Rep

Last spring Richard Pollak asked in these pages, "Is GE Mightier Than the Hudson?" (May 28, 2001). Given the Environmental Protection Agency's December 4 decision to dredge the PCB-contaminated river, it is tempting to ring in the new year with a resounding No. Despite the company's multimillion-dollar blitz of lawyering, lobbying and PR, the Bush Administration, in the person of its EPA Administrator, Christine Todd Whitman, has come down squarely on the side of those in New York's historic Hudson River Valley who have been agitating for years to make GE clean up the lethal mess it created by dumping more than a million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls in the river from the 1940s into the 1970s. This pollution has turned 200 miles of the Hudson, from just above Albany south to New York Harbor, into the biggest Superfund site in the nation; EPA law requires that GE pay the cost of removing the toxic chemicals, which the agency estimates at $460 million. More than once, the company has told its stockholders it can well afford this sum, as a multinational with a market value of some $500 billion surely can.

Still, it may be premature to pop the champagne corks. This past fall, fearing that Whitman might follow the lead of her Clinton Administration predecessor, Carol Browner, and endorse the cleanup, GE filed a federal suit attacking as unconstitutional a Superfund provision that allows the EPA, if the company refuses to dredge, to do the job itself and bill GE for three times the final cost plus penalties of $27,500 a day. GE has plenty of time (and cash) to pursue this and other maneuvers against dredging, which is needed to remove some 150,000 pounds of PCBs still in the Hudson. The EPA estimates it will take at least three years to work out the project's engineering and other details--e.g., what kind of equipment is needed, how much stirred-up sediment is acceptable and what landfills can safely handle the contaminated mud. Many residents along the banks of the river are divided--sometimes angrily--on these and several other issues. During the EPA's 127-day comment period in 2001 it received about thirty-eight boxes of letters and 35,000 e-mails, many spurred by GE's scare campaign--on billboards, in newspaper ads and on TV infomercials--warning that dredging will destroy the river.

The EPA has pledged that the public will have even more of a voice in the project's design decisions over the coming months--a welcome process but one that GE is likely to exploit with more propaganda. At its enviro-friendly-sounding website (hudsonwatch.com), for example, the company continues to insist, on no hard evidence, that the citizens of the Hudson River Valley oppose dredging "overwhelmingly." Some residents do resist dredging and the inevitable inconvenience it will bring to their communities, and not all have arrived at their view because of GE's PR tactics. But after almost two decades of review by the EPA, the burden of scientific evidence shows that the remaining PCBs, which cause cancer in laboratory animals and probably in humans, continue to poison the river a quarter-century after their use was banned and GE stopped dumping them.

The EPA's December 4 order could be the precedent that requires the company to clean up forty other sites where it has dumped PCBs. This would cost several billion dollars, a hit not so easy to reassure shareholders about. Even with GE master-builder Jack Welch retired and busy flogging his bestselling How-I-Did-It book, don't look for the company to roll over anytime soon.

Enron's Ken Lay is no stranger to not only the Bush family, but the Bush administration. Finally, reporters are starting to take notice and ask questions.

With developments in the Mumia Abu-Jamal case and Pacifica's re-emergence, the left has a couple of victories under its belt; the Enron scandal develops further.

The connections between Enron and the Bush administration run deep—and they should be investigated.

Enron's collapse is a perfect illustration of deregulation and capitalism without a conscience.

How the right is using trade law to overturn American democracy.

What goes down comes around. Amidst all the attention to United Airlines' post-September 11 woes, no one noticed the ringing irony of its tapping John W. Creighton Jr.

September 11 showed us true American heroes. Now let's build on their strength.

It's time to ask "borderless" corporations: Which side are you on?

Blogs

The settlement with one of the nation’s biggest banks is historic—what should be next?

November 20, 2013

Members of Business Roundtable, a corporate lobby advocating for cuts to retirees’ benefts, have retirement acounts more than 1,200 times the size of the median American worker's. 

November 19, 2013

We talk about conservatism’s “business” and "traditionalist" wings. But when it gets right down to it, they’re as interconnected as the two sides of a mobius strip.

November 15, 2013

Big business used to buy into the center-left consensus. Then, suddenly, it didn’t. 

November 13, 2013

Two cheers for Bill Gross, the co-founder and managing director of PIMCO, the California-based bond house that manages some $2 trillion in other people’s wealth.

November 4, 2013

The case against GMOs has strengthened steadily over the last few years, even as the industry has expanded all over the world.

October 29, 2013

JPMorgan deserves to be paying their 13 billion dollar fine—they’ve got a rap sheet longer than a London whale, head to tail.

October 29, 2013

The smallest federal enforcement outfit has perhaps the best record on Wall Street prosecutions. Why?

October 23, 2013

Will the Justice Department finally pursue criminal charges against the megabank for its long list of misdeeds?

October 21, 2013

Opposition to affordable healthcare has always been backed by untold sums of corporate money and marked by a notably consistent streak of red-baiting rhetoric and doom-saying predictions.

October 5, 2013