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Attorney: AG is wrong, Gowanus Canal cleanup won’t be affected by Trump’s EPA cuts

Gowanus Canal cleanup begins
Cleaning it up: Crews started pulling up large debris from the Fourth Street Turning Basin of the Gowanus Canal on Monday.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

It is fake ooze!

President Trump’s proposal to slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget will not bog down the federal cleanup of the slimy Gowanus Canal, despite state Attorney General Schneiderman’s recent claims to the contrary, claims an environmental law expert with ties to the project.

“This seems to be a little bit of fake news on the part of the attorney general,” said attorney Larry Schnapf, the New York State Bar Association’s environmental-law guru, whose clients include a developer building on a brownfield site along the waterway.

Schneiderman and local pols held a press conference at the Superfund site on Tuesday where he claimed The Donald’s plan to slash staffing numbers at the agency will result in less oversight and fewer administrators to scrub the toxic waste and gonorrhea out of Brooklyn’s Nautical Purgatory.

“The cleanup of the Gowanus Canal could be slowed by these cutbacks,” he said. “The administration could delay further proceedings.”

But Schnapf says the work required to get the ball rolling is already done — the cleanup officially began in October last year — so the project should move forward regardless of any staffing cuts, echoing assurances a rep from the agency made at a community meeting in January.

Schneiderman is right to be concerned that cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency could stymie other cleanups that aren’t so far along, the legal eagle said — just not this one.

“I think his concerns are generally well placed, but to use the Gowanus Canal as an example is not accurate,” he said.

Money for the canal’s cleanse — paid for by those that polluted the waterway in the first place — is in a separate fund and should be unaffected by the federal budget, he said.

Councilman Brad Lander (D–Gowanus) argued at the presser that the polluters could still squirm out of coughing up the cash because they still haven’t signed the paperwork putting themselves on the hook to pay.

But Schnapf thinks it’s unlikely the two main responsible parties — the city and National Grid — will risk shirking their responsibilities. The utility giant has already hiked its rates last year to pay for its many Superfund obligations around the city.

“They’re still liable parties and the EPA could always sue them to do the work,” he said. “I don’t think they’d want to be put in that position.”

Of course, Congress controls the federal purse strings and it is too soon to tell if the budget cuts will actually go ahead, as some Republicans have already come out against the scrounging.

Workers began preparing the canal for dredging last year, and are slated to start scooping up gunk from the water later this year, but the entire cleanup process won’t be done until 2022 — assuming everything goes to schedule.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency declined to comment.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill

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