It’s the Environment, Stupid

Con Ed’s Nuclear Blunder

Given that the Indian Point 2 nuclear power plant is just 35 miles north of New York City, one of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in the world, you’d think that the operators and staff would be well trained and prepared for any emergency.

Guess again. A recently discovered internal memo by the plant’s owner and operator, Consolidated Edison, reports that, during a radiation leak at Indian Point 2 on Feb. 15, everything that could have gone wrong did. Equipment failed. Workers didn’t know what they were doing. Outrageously, Con Ed likely knew about these problems a full six months before the leak.

Only a small amount of radioactive steam was emitted during the accident. But the possibility of a greater catastrophe remains very real. The mishap brought the reactor to the second of four levels of emergency. And, based on Con Ed’s own scathing review of procedures taken during the incident, it seems clear that the utility can’t be trusted with protecting the lives and health of millions of metro area residents.

Con Ed wants to resume operations at Indian Point 2 this summer without replacing the aging steam generator that sprang the leak because, well, a new generator would cost $100 million. Too bad. The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, whose approval is necessary before Indian Point 2 can go back on line, must demand that Con Ed replace the faulty generator and give a full accounting of its dismal performance last winter.

Indian Point was not built in some sparse southwestern desert. Millions upon millions live within an hour’s drive of the facility. An accident there would be a catastrophe. The N.R.C. should take no chances. Con Ed’s own report explains why it cannot be trusted to ensure our health and safety.

G.E.’s River Dance

To understand why General Electric has stubbornly refused to be a decent corporate citizen for the past 25 years and clean up the toxic mess it created in the Hudson River, it helps to go back to 1976, and to have an understanding of blackmail. Faced with having to clean up the tons of polychlorinated biphenyls (P.C.B.’s) that his company had been dumping into the Hudson since the 1940’s, G.E. chairman Reginald Jones told then-Governor Hugh Carey that if New York would not back off and settle with G.E., Mr. Jones would move 55,000 employees out of state. As The New York Times recently reported, Mr. Carey buckled, and G.E., having tasted a corrupt sort of success, has to this day preferred to take the low and dishonorable road when it comes to the health and long-term viability of one of the state’s most majestic natural attractions. The Environmental Protection Agency is reportedly on the verge of finally ordering G.E. to do the right thing, the only decent thing: to dredge the river and restore it to a version of its pre-G.E. vitality.

It is appalling that the federal government has had to devote enormous resources to force G.E., a company that made almost $11 billion in profits last year, to simply accept responsibility for its actions. Rather than expunge the stain upon the Hudson and its name, G.E. has spent decades trying to argue that there is no need to dredge the Hudson, that if the oily layers of carcinogenic P.C.B.’s are left alone, the river will simply clean itself. The company has spent tens of millions of dollars trying to find scientists and lawyers who will back up this kind of magical thinking. Why? Because to actually clean the river could cost G.E. more than  $1 billion. Meanwhile, the river’s commercial fishing industry was destroyed by the P.C.B. contamination-fish caught in the Hudson are still not fit to eat-and the surrounding wildlife continues to be endangered. Three panels of independent scientists recently confirmed the health risks of eating fish from the river, and last summer the E.P.A. found a limited cancer risk for those who merely wade in the river.

The E.P.A. says it will announce its clean-up plan toward the end of summer. It turns out, however, that the law gives the E.P.A. the right to start dredging the river now, on its own, and to charge G.E. triple the cost. That may be the kind of blackmail G.E. can understand.

The Bug That Ate New York

While the front pages of the world’s newspapers were celebrating the scientists who decoded the human genome, a small beetle from China continued to thwart science’s best efforts to halt its devastating march through New York City’s precious trees. In the past four years, ever since the Asian long-horned beetles first turned up in this country in Brooklyn, nearly 6,000 trees-Norway maples, oaks, lindens, sweet gums and bald cypress-have had to be cut down in the New York area, including some towering specimens that were around when Abraham Lincoln was President. Last week, the beetles were found gnawing six trees on the Lower East Side; last summer, they dined on trees at an Upper East Side playground. The risk to the city’s green spaces-think of Central Park without its trees-is potentially huge.

The offending insect kills trees by boring deep inside them to lay eggs. Once a tree has been infected, it must be cut down, chopped up and burned. Federal and state agricultural officials have yet to find a pesticide effective against the beetle. The beetles somehow made it to Chicago, and more than 1,000 trees had to be chopped down. The country’s top tree experts have no solution beyond trying to contain the outbreaks. The city’s Parks and Recreation Commissioner, Henry J. Stern, has demonstrated a fitting sense of alarm; Mayor Rudolph Giuliani should follow up by devoting significant city resources to battling the beetle. Meanwhile, residents who see small holes in neighborhood trees are encouraged to call the Parks Department at (800) 201-PARK.

It’s the Environment, Stupid