Eco-groups sue NY officials for brownfield ‘failures’

Four environmental groups have begun court proceedings against the New York State environmental department challenging the standards it set under the state's Brownfield Cleanup Program.

A Supreme Court judge has heard arguments put forward by Sierra Club, the New York Public Interest Research Group, Environmental Advocates of New York, and Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, who are being represented by ecological law firm Earthjustice.

The groups allege that, under former Governor George Pataki’s administration, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) ignored the directive of the State Legislature and watered down cleanup standards for brownfield sites, threatening public health and the environment.

Earthjustice lawyer Keri Powell said: “Before we give out tax credits and liability exemptions to developers, before we allow homes and daycare centres and nursing homes to be built on these sites, we must make sure they are cleaned up to a level that protects human health.

“That is what we are asking for in this lawsuit.”

The groups claimed the DEC decided sites in polluted neighbourhoods only had to meet “background” pollution levels – matching the standards of the surrounding area – and argue this was not sufficient to comply with state laws.

The lawsuit, first filed in March last year, also accused DEC officials of refusing to comply with instructions from state lawmakers to study the results of past cleanups to see if tougher standards could be achieved.

The campaigners have urged current State Governor Eliot Spitzer, who took office at the beginning of 2007, to right the alleged wrongs of his predecessor’s administration.

The Brownfield Cleanup Program was intended to encourage the cleanup and redevelopment of thousands of boarded-up gas stations, decaying factories and other abandoned sites across the state.

The case continues.

Kate Martin

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