After initially surprising New York City by proposing that the Gowanus Canal be listed on the federal Superfund list, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) now believes the City’s proposed alternative to listing should be seriously considered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to press reports. Specifically, an August 6th letter from DEC to EPA states as follows:
Without expressing a substantive opinion on the proposed alternate plan, we believe that it is appropriate for the Environmental Protection Agency to carefully review and consider the proposal, to determine whether it in fact will reliably result in an investigation and remediation plan fully consistent with what would otherwise be required if the site is listed….
Concerned about environmental stigma and interference with a planned rezoning that would revitalize the Gowanus neighborhood, create jobs, and increase tax revenue, on July 8th the City of New York filed extensive comments urging EPA to pursue alternatives to a Superfund listing. The full text of the City’s comments is available here (PDF). Among other things, the City argued that the proposed listing would:
- Violate a Presidential Executive Order because it would interfere with actions already planned by the Army Corps of Engineers to address contamination in the Gowanus; and
- Conflict with a 2005 Consent Order between the City and DEC under the Clean Water Act.
In its comments, the City put forth an alternative plan for addressing issues at the Gowanus that would include participation by the City and also by National Grid, which supported the City’s comments in a separate letter. As we have previously noted, several developers and landowners in the Gowanus also have voiced concerns about the proposed listing for similar reasons.
The State DEC’s recent letter signals that the politics around a Superfund listing may be shifting in favor of alternatives. EPA is expected to make a decision on the proposed listing sometime in the next few months, although that time frame could always be postponed in favor of additional consideration.
EPA has supported alternatives to Superfund listing elsewhere in the country when a credible alternative to listing is proposed. The City, National Grid, and other parties opposed to listing have made the case for such an alternative to be carefully considered for the Gowanus.