Thursday, March 03, 2011

In Bed With General Electric Company

What the Hell Are These People Thinking?

Are These Movers-and-Shakers Stopping a $1.5 Billion Dollar Stimulus to the Berkshire Economy?

by G.M. Heller
Published: Thursday, March 03, 2011, 7:40 P.M. EST.

Pittsfield, MA -- A small group of Berkshire County movers-and-shakers are principals in a local entity the professed goal of which is to push for limited remediation of PCB's and other toxic chemicals contaminating the Housatonic River and its flood plain. By so doing, though, these presumably well-intentioned folks may unintentionally be standing in the way of what could be a total of about $1.5 billion ($1,500,000,000) of stimulus to Berkshire County's economy.

The conflict of self-interests is exacerbated by the fact that the entity, 1Berkshire, Inc., is being heavily subsidized by General Electric Company, the firm whose PCB pollution is the subject of the entity's 'low-impact' publicity campaign.

Further, it is G.E. which is on the hook for that billion and a half dollars that would be supplying super-stimulus to Berkshire County if indeed full remediation of all toxics dumped by G.E. were to be ordered by U.S.E.P.A..
(Article continues below.)

1Berkshire, Inc.'s 'Movers-and-Shakers'

Michael P. Daly
, Pres. & CEO, Berkshire Hills Bancorp, Inc. and Berkshire Bank

Roger O. Goldman, Founder & Gen. Partner, Berkshire Opportunity Fund

C. Jeffrey Cook, Sr. Partner, Cohen, Kinne, Valicenti & Cook, LLP

Laurie Norton Moffatt, Dir./CEO, Norman Rockwell Museum

Nancy Fitzpatrick, Owner, Red Lion Inn

Kevin Sprague, Owner, Creative Dir., Studio Two.

Reggie Cooper
, Managing Dir., Canyon Ranch

Gerard 'Jerry' Burke, Pres., Hillcrest Educational Centers

Michael Supranowicz, Pres. & CEO, Berkshire Chamber of Commerce

Lauri Ostrander Klefos, Pres. & CEO, Berkshire Visitors Bureau

Joseph C. Thompson, Dir., MASS MoCA

(Continued from above.)

1Berkshire is engaged in a public relations campaign, underwritten by at least $300,000 from G.E., to promote the notion that it would somehow be a good thing to limit or avoid altogether the remediation of PCB's and other toxic substances (including Hexavalent Chromium, Mercury, Volatile Organic Compounds, and Dioxins) plaguing -- poisoning actually -- Pittsfield, Silver Lake, the Housatonic River, Woods Pond, and the Housatonic River flood plain.

'Smart Clean-Up Coalition' -- but just how smart?

As part of that publicity campaign, 1Berkshire, using Facebook, is sponsoring what it calls the Smart Clean-Up Coalition, a so-called 'initiative' to promote what it labels a 'low-impact' clean-up of the Housatonic River; in other words, 1Berkshire's supporters are lobbying for a severely restricted remediation of the various toxins and cancer-causing chemicals contaminating the river and its flood plain. 1Berkshire's supporters are apparently concerned 'the cure' for PCB contamination may be worse than 'the disease'.

What 1Berkshire and G.E. are not telling people is that the real purpose behind the public relations blitz is to save G.E. literally $1.5 billion on the expense involved in removing the poisons G.E. intentionally dumped into the Berkshire environment from its now-closed transformer plant upriver over the course of more than a half-century.

As with all G.E. public relations campaigns, expect to be subjected to slick advertising everywhere (on local radio and TV, in The Berkshire Eagle and other newspapers, on local billboards, on Facebook, via snail mail and email, etc.) and all for the purpose of putting fear into people.

It pays to remember the bogeyman tactics G.E. orchestrated just ten years ago when the hot issue facing the company back then (hot meaning of potentially prohibitive impact to the company's bottom line) was whether G.E. should be required by U.S.E.P.A. to dredge the Hudson River of the PCB's released by G.E. from its plant upriver in Fort Edward, New York.

G.E. went all out in that campaign effort with ugly footage of dredges messily disgorging mud, glop and slop from a river bottom somewhere scenic, dumping all of it in also notably sloppy fashion into waiting barges (the ads intentionally -- misleadingly -- wanted to make people believe that PCB's in the river would be mishandled and allowed to re-pollute the river as they were being removed from it).

The reality, of course, has been a much different story. The actual dredges used for Hudson River remediation reflect state-of-the-art handling of materials. As much as possible, contaminated mud is held back and prevented from reentering the river environment.

Then, as now, it was a fear tactic meant to frighten and enrage.
The campaign back then was aimed at residents in New York and New Jersey, the two states sharing jurisdiction over the Hudson.

G.E. wanted those voters to bring pressure upon Congress (and thus U.S.E.P.A.) to accept G.E.'s 'initiative' for the Hudson, which then, as with the Housatonic at present, was a 'Low-Impact' plan (add: on G.E.'s bottom line) for remediation of PCB's and other chemicals contaminating the Hudson.

Back then, G.E.'s ultimate goal was 'monitored natural recovery' -- (sound familiar?) -- also known as the 'do nothing' plan. Watching and waiting costs G.E. almost nothing.

Bottom Line: Now, as in 2000, the whole intent behind these scare-the-public juggernauts is to save G.E. some very big bucks. G.E. avoids releasing total figures on what it costs the company to comply with U.S.E.P.A.'s remediation orders, but from time to time the expensive truth, like the PCB contamination in Silver Lake, inevitably seeps out.

Hudson River Clean-up Costs G.E. $1.33 Billion So Far

Under the headline "GE to Finish Cleanup Project -- Further Hudson River Dredging Prompts $500 Million Fourth-Quarter Charge", the Wall Street Journal reported last December that G.E. "will take a $500 million charge in the fourth quarter to help fund an environmental cleanup of the Hudson River that the conglomerate said it plans to complete during the next five to seven years." According to that same report: "GE said it already has spent $830 million on the Hudson cleanup effort. The company had dumped roughly 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, legally over a number of decades before the toxic chemicals were banned in 1977."
(Note: G.E. released these eye-opening figures just two days before Christmas, a time guaranteed to have few taking notice.)

Cleaning up PCB's and the laundry list of other toxics G.E. dumped willy-nilly into the environment over decades is highly capital intensive -- no cheap third-world labor here.

The claimed 1.3 million pounds of PCB's G.E. dumped into the Hudson River is less than the total amount of PCB's and other toxic chemicals estimated to have been dumped into Silver Lake and the Housatonic River.

Engineers with G.E. have claimed that at least 1.5 million pounds of PCB's are documented to have gone into Silver Lake and the Housatonic River over the course of more than half a century. Few if any with the company actually know -- or want to acknowledge -- just how much more may actually have been dumped, sumped and pumped over that lengthy period.

Further, that figure does not include tons of contaminated industrial wastes which lay buried throughout Berkshire County including PCB-laced Fuller's Earth, transformers, capacitors and miscellaneous industrial detritus disposed of by G.E. personnel and its sub-contractors over the course of nearly one hundred years of the firm's Pittsfield operations (starting in 1890 with Stanley Electric Manufacturing Company, in which G.E. bought control in 1903).

Given the acknowledged $1.33 billion it is costing G.E. to clean-up the claimed 1.3 million pounds of PCB's in the Hudson River, and given that the going rate for PCB remediation thus appears to be about $1023 per pound, from collection to final disposal, it's this kind of real money -- more than $1.534 billion for remediation of the Housatonic River, Woods Pond, the river flood plain, and Silver Lake -- that G.E. is now trying to avoid having to pay out.

G.E.'s top management is no doubt well aware that a complete and thorough remediation of PCB's tied to its former Pittsfield operations could easily trump by hundreds of millions of dollars the amount the firm already acknowledges spending on Hudson River remediation.

By lobbying the public with a front group like 1Berkshire, G.E. is thus attempting to rustle up public opinion behind the idea that G.E. in the spirit of environmental preservation should be allowed to avoid altogether actually having to remove any of its toxics plaguing the Housatonic River and flood plain (and poisoning the river's fish, and the river's mammals, and the river's birds, and the river's amphibians, and the river's reptiles, and the river's insects -- not to mention Pittsfield's neighborhoods, Silver Lake, etc.).

If G.E. ends up being ordered by U.S.E.P.A. to do a thorough remediation, the likely cost of such clean-up ($1.534 billion in today's dollars) calculates to be about five thousand times the $300,000 the company is currently on record as having contributed to 1Berkshire (money that is subsidizing the current disinformation campaign).

G.E.'s gambit in Berkshire County appears to be the same one the company tried (and failed with) in 2000 over whether it should be required to dredge its PCB's out of the Hudson River: Spend a little money now on fright ads and a disinformation campaign -- and if the public buys into the lie -- then that will prove more cost effective than having to spend five thousand times that amount doing actual remediation work later on.

A $1.5 Billion Stimulus to the Berkshire Economy?

Questions which should be posed to the movers-and-shakers and other leading lights in Berkshire County who have signed-on to 1Berkshire's bandwagon seeking to limit or stop PCB remediation:
Where do you think $1.5 billion expended over the course of ten years on remediation might end-up being spent locally by those actually doing the clean-up work?
Given that Berkshire County's unemployment rate is over 8%, wouldn't an additional $1.5 billion coming into the county be a good thing for the region's economic health?
Wouldn't jobs paying union scale on these remediation projects be of enormous benefit to the local economy?
Don't equipment operators and those driving to and from remediation sites need to eat, buy fuel, consume groceries, and sleep someplace (if away from home)?
Wouldn't state and local governments benefit from taxes collected on sales, meals and lodging to those involved with the clean-up? #####

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