Why local businesses are urging EPA to approve settlement to clean up Passaic River

Settlement represents fair deal for taxpayers and step forward for New Jersey

Jim Kirkos is CEO of the Meadowlands Chamber. – File photo

The Passaic River should be a cornerstone of New Jersey communities, providing opportunities for outdoor fun and growing the local economy. Instead, it’s one of the most toxic waterways in the country.

Companies dumped industrial waste into the river for decades in the early-to-mid-1900s, eventually causing the Environmental Protection Agency to declare the Lower Passaic River a Superfund site. The Passaic River Superfund investigation has dragged along for nearly 40 years.

It’s time for a fair resolution.

This is why the Meadowlands Chamber supports a pending settlement between the EPA and approximately 85 companies to finally begin cleaning the river. If approved by the court, the settlement will generate a significant financial commitment from responsible parties to compensate for their role in the pollution in the river.

This settlement represents a major step forward in cleaning up the river, sparking economic revitalization and quality of life. Full cleanup of the river will take years, but — after decades of technical studies, court decisions, delays and endless litigation — it’s time to get started.

There are several reasons why this settlement represents the best deal for the Passaic River and for the people of New Jersey.

Importantly, it ensures that polluters pay their fair share of the cleanup costs, a longstanding principle of federal and state environmental laws and regulations. According to EPA data and years of environmental studies, the settling companies’ fair share of $150 million is consistent with their pollution of the river.

Additionally, the prospective settlement helps to ensure that taxpayers will not be forced to foot the bill for the necessary cleanup and remediation that companies created. The $2 billion bill should be paid by all the responsible parties according to their share of responsibility.

To that end, the EPA has determined that a single company — Occidental Chemical Corp. — is responsible for over 99% of the pollution.

It’s only fair that Occidental is held accountable as well — not just the 85 companies that have agreed to settle. However, Occidental’s refusal to participate in the EPA’s settlement process, instead creating delays and threatening even more litigation, should not stop the remaining polluters from resolving their obligations.

The EPA, New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection and many other parties have worked tirelessly to reach this settlement. The remaining polluter should contribute its fair share, just like the 85 companies.

The millions of people living and working alongside the Passaic River deserve progress. They’ve waited long enough.

Jim Kirkos is CEO of the Meadowlands Chamber, which is based in Lyndhurst.