Sunday, July 28, 2013

Rochesterians love Kodak, but Kodak must clean up their mess


LIfeSupportSystemOdds are if you have lived in the Rochester, NY area for awhile, you or someone you know has worked for Kodak. It was for a time the largest employer in Rochester and in New York State. They treated their employees well and treated their community in such a style that endeared many to them, even as the former photo giant enters bankruptcy. As for how Kodak treated our environment over the years, it’s a different story. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is challenging Kodak Eastman Business Park’s decision to establish a 49 million dollar trust, and then wash its hands of environmental liability. (EPA objects to Kodak's environmental plan , July 17, 2013 Innovation Trail

Considering Kodak’s past environmental record, there’s cause for concern (to put it mildly) that 49 million dollars is not sufficient to cover all future environmental concerns over at Kodak Park. Here is just one of many past stories on allegations of pollution (see also past Rochester-area Brownfield news):

Kodak Park tainted past hard to bury - Some claim state oversight isn't stringent enough — Three more Kodak Park buildings will be imploded next month, part of a revitalization program in which 100 structures will have been demolished at the vast manufacturing complex by year's end. But long after the buildings are leveled and rubble is cleared, the impact of decades of pollution will persist. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in spending, and about $65 million more to come, large swaths of Kodak Park remain contaminated, their soil and groundwater tainted by countless chemical leaks and spills over the years. (August 26, 2007) Democrat & Chronicle

And there is reason to be concerned that the public will get stuck with costs over $49 million once the Kodak trust runs out:

Possible Deal To Resolve Differences Over Kodak Cleanup Plan There may be a deal in the works to resolve differences among the agencies involved in a cleanup fund for the Eastman Business Park. According to Senator Chuck Schumer's office, there is a framework now for resolving differences that cropped up recently over the plan by Kodak to set aside $49 million in a fund that could be used for any future cleanup needed at the Eastman Business Park, formerly known as Kodak Park. (7/26/2013,WXXI News)

A deal? Is the EPA being told to back off on making Kodak liable for environmental damage? Why otherwise would a deal need to be made? Is the EPA in the habit of making such a priori deals with polluters? Where would the health of the Hudson River be today if such a deal was made with GE? If Kodak is confident that $49 million will cover future cleanup, why doesn’t Kodak come up with a 500 million dollar trust ‘knowing’ that the amount will never go over $49 million? At the end of the day, any plan that encourages the EPA to back off Kodak for the full amount to clean up alleged environmental damage and potentially leave ‘we the people’ to foot the bill for decades of possible environmental damage is not really a good deal at all. Except of course for Kodak.

Movements are afoot to encourage the EPA to stick to its guns and make sure Kodak pays, not the public:

The governor has a plan to clean up this incredibly contaminated site and is asking Kodak to foot the bill for a $49 million Environmental Trust Fund. But is that enough to clean up this massive toxic contamination and if it’s not, who will pay for the rest of the cleanup costs? We, and many other environmental and social justice organizations, need to express our opposition to the proposed $49 million Kodak environmental liability plan, which significantly underestimates the amount of funding necessary to comprehensively remediate highly complex contaminated sources, soil, buildings, groundwater and sediment contamination at Kodak Park and the Genesee River. The proposed Kodak settlement would require both the state and federal environmental agencies to waive their rights to sue the company in the future for environmental problems. New York state seems to be willing to sign off on this deal but the EPA is wisely objecting to this provision. (Web Essay: This Kodak Moment needs to be challenged, 7/25/2013, Democrat and Chronicle)

Speaking of the Genesee River and pollution, there is presently a program by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) “to enable citizen scientists to collect biological data for assessment of water quality”. It would be sensible to find out the total extent of pollution around Rochester before we write off any corporation’s environmental liability:

DEC Looking for Volunteers for Stream and River Monitoring DEC is actively recruiting citizen scientists to collect biological samples from streams and rivers in the Genesee, Delaware, Hudson, and Mohawk River watersheds as part of the Wadeable Assessments by Volunteer Evaluators (WAVE) project to assess water quality. (WAVE, July 24, 2013) NYS DEC

Many businesses today realize that it doesn’t pay to pollute with the government and environmentalists looking over their shoulder. The world of business is changing from one where businesses could pollute and walk away from the resulting damage to one where they cannot. Read: Good to Green: Managing Business Risks and Opportunities in the Age of Environmental Awareness. I’m sure it will eventually become the norm to operate a corporation without contaminating our environment and jeopardizing the public’s health, but not until we rid ourselves of the absurdity that environmental regulations are ‘too burdensome’ on the business community. The real burden is trying to clean up old industrial sites on the backs of tax payers.

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