HUDSON RIVER CASE
The struggle surrounding
the Hudson River has been taking place for
decades. Recently, the movement to clean up the river has gained significant
ground. Late in his second term President Clinton made the decision that the Hudson River should be dredged of the harmful
contaminants that the General Electric Company (GE) had spent years dumping
into its waters. Shortly after George W. Bush took office, he concurred with
his predecessor – the Hudson
should be dredged. In 2002 Christie Todd Whitman, the head of the United States
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), supported the presidents by passing the
Record of Decision (ROD) stating that the dredging project would happen
following a three-year planning period. According to Alex Matthiessen,
executive director of the environmental watchdog organization Riverkeeper, “The
EPA decision [to dredge] represents more than just a regulatory victory; it
represents the triumph of truth over deception, good over evil, the will of the
people over the massive and relentless anti-environment campaign of a corporate
giant” (Tucker 2002, 54).
The Hudson River originates
at Lake Tear
of the Clouds, high up in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. From its headwaters, the river
flows over 300 miles through dramatic mountains, sloping farmland, locks and
dams, towns and cities, before reaching New York Harbor.
It is a striking example of both natural beauty, and industrial contamination –
while its landscapes inspired the first school of painting in the nation, its
contamination distinguishes it as the longest Superfund site in the United States
(Claudio 2002). The history of the Hudson River is closely knit with the growth
of industry and commerce in America.
It is named for Henry Hudson, who navigated the river in 1609 thinking it would
be a quick route to China.
While Hudson was clearly mistaken, the river did
become an important inland waterway for the United States. By constructing the
Erie Canal in 1823, ships were able to sail from the Midwest to New York City, and onward.
When railways became the most efficient transportation method, tracks were laid
along the banks of the Hudson,
making it an ideal location for industry. With easy access to both water power
and rail transport, the banks of the river teemed with factories.
One of the earliest and
most important companies to locate along the Hudson was the General Electric Company (GE),
formed when Thomas Edison consolidated his patents for incandescent bulbs in
1892. Although the company was based in New
York City, it began taking over
factories along the river; before long GE’s manufacturing complex stretched
from Schenectady to Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
In Fort Edward
and nearby Hudson Falls, GE took over factories directly on the river
and retained permits from New York State
to dump waste into the river (Tucker 2002). The two locations continue to be
pivotal in the controversy surrounding the river.