Get Tough, Mr. Cuomo

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 22: Governor Andrew M. Cuomo speaks to labor leaders, workers and activists at a rally for a $15 minimum hourly wage on July 22, 2015 in New York City. A panel appointed by Cuomo recommended on Wednesday that the minimum wage be raised for employees of fast-food chain restaurants throughout the state. The panel recommended that the $15 rate be phased in by December 31, 2018 for New York City and by July 1, 2021 for the rest of the state. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on July 22, 2015 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images) (Photo: Spencer Platt for Getty Images)

Gov. Cuomo relishes his reputation as a tough guy. But he is acting like a pussycat when it comes to pressuring General Electric to finish cleaning up the pollution it created in upstate waterways. GE is shutting down a six-year, billion-dollar cleanup of PCB’s in the Hudson River. After years of fighting its responsibility in the courts, GE claims its job is done. The State Department of Environmental Conversation could weigh in and probably keeping the effort going, but is unusually mum. Apparently the governor still hopes GE will move its corporate headquarters to New York from Connecticut, and is afraid that demanding full cleanup of the Superfund sites will queer the deal.

Upstate farms and businesses need the full cleanup if they are to use the still-closed Champlain Canal to transport their crops and products to downstate markets. The farm-to-table opportunities are significant, but upstate farmers and businesses need the canal to compete efficiently. Highly contaminated sludge still clogs the locks and channels south of Fort Edwards, an area about 20 miles northeast of Saratoga Springs.

Upstate farms and businesses need the full cleanup if they are to use the still-closed Champlain Canal to transport their crops and products to downstate markets.

A viable Champlain Canal would provide a cost-effective way to get fresh farm products from a four-county area down the Hudson Valley and into the New York City metropolitan area—where the farm-to-table movement is booming. These are hard-pressed counties, and they could benefit enormously from a sustainable economic growth strategy. Revived farming supported by a more efficient transportation network is a far-better idea than another casino.

In the meantime, GE is proceeding with the dismantling of the multi-billion-dollar infrastructure that is needed to properly collect, dry and dispose of the contaminated sludge. Let’s be clear: although GE argued in the courts for years that the Hudson was “healing itself,” the pollution was the company’s fault. Between 1947 and 1977 when the EPA banned the production of PCB’s, GE discharged approximately 1.3 million pounds of PCB’s into the river from two capacitor-manufacturing plants: one in Fort Edward and another in Hudson Falls. As a result, a 200-mile stretch of the Hudson, all the way down to the Battery in New York City, was placed on the EPA’s list of the “most contaminated hazardous waste sites” in the country.

Mr. Cuomo’s office has the power to compel GE to finish the job. He should do so, even at the risk of losing the corporate headquarters. This is not a question of having a “business-friendly” state—our tax structure makes a laughing stock of that claim. GE will come to New York if it believes it can attract and keep the executive workforce it seeks. It must also understand that corporate responsibility demands that it cleans up the mess that it made. Mr. Cuomo needs to show the leadership that rewards long-term vision. Get Tough, Mr. Cuomo