General Electric Continues to Stall Cleaning Up Hudson River Pollution

This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," June 25, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Factor Follow-up" segment tonight: As we mentioned in the "Talking Points Memo," the General Electric Corporation is the only major American company still doing business with Iran. CEO Jeffrey Immelt says he will stop doing that at the end of this month. We will see.

Now there's more trouble. An environmental group, Riverkeepers, is accusing GE and Immelt of not doing enough to clean up pollution that the company caused in the Hudson River.

Now, you may remember GE dumped more than a million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson. That's a cancer-causing agent, and GE reached a settlement with the government to clean things up. However, after decades of litigation, the Riverkeepers claim Immelt continues to stall.

I spoke with the president of the group, Alex Matthiessen, last week.


O'REILLY: I understand about three years ago you had a face-to-face meeting with Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, at one of the stockholder meetings. What did you say to him?

ALEX MATTHIESSEN, RIVERKEEPER PRESIDENT: I basically said it's high time that GE clean up the Hudson River PCB contamination and all the other superfund sites that they're responsible for around the country.

O'REILLY: It's been going on for 30 years. You know, I think they've had more than enough time to clean it up. They have not. What did Immelt say to you?

MATTHIESSEN: Well, Immelt continues to be, as is GE, very defensive about the Hudson River cleanup, but continue to postulate it's actually safer to leave the Hudson — the PCBs in the river than it is to dredge them.

That has been categorically rejected by not only the EPA after the longest, most thorough comprehensive study they've ever done of a superfund site, but also by five independent scientific panelists — panels that all corroborated the PCB conclusion, which is PCBs are highly dangerous to the environment, to human health. And they need to be dredged. That's the only way you can remove them.

O'REILLY: OK. GE is not going to do it, because they don't want to pay the money to do it.

MATTHIESSEN: By the time they're done, it will probably cost them at least three quarters of a billion dollars, possibly more.

But the other thing is that they're most concerned about is the fact that this is only one of 75 or more GE superfund sites around the country. If they lose on this and they admit liability on this one, they're worried about the precedent it sets for all the other sites.

O'REILLY: But they've already admitted liability on it. They've already said that they did it. And they said it was legal, but so what? They have a responsibility to the country to clean up what they did, their mess, right?

MATTHIESSEN: I think there's no question about it. And what's troubling is that they're going out and spending tens of millions of dollars on this — or billions of dollars on the Ecomagination venture.


JEFFREY IMMELT, CEO, GENERAL ELECTRIC: GE launched the big initiative in 2004 called Ecomagination. Today we'll have about $14 billion in revenue.


MATTHIESSEN: Also, a lot of money on the PR effort behind that. And the truth is the Hudson River cleanup or lack thereof in the 30 years of delay that they have forced upon this community is a major black stain on that Ecomagination effort.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just as nature reuses water, GE water technology has turned billions of gallons into clean water each year, rain or shine.


O'REILLY: So if you believe this stuff, they're the greatest environmentalists in the world. And yet they're spending millions, as you pointed out, on these propaganda commercials. I don't know if they're propaganda. Maybe they do good things there. I don't know. But they're certainly not doing what they should do in the Hudson River.

MATTHIESSEN: Absolutely. I mean, listen, as an environmentalist, I'm very supportive of the Ecomagination piece in that it's going to help to create a real market for these new energy-efficient technologies, green technologies, renewable energy technologies, etc. The problem is for them to take full credit as this new environmental company that's at the vanguard of the sustainability movement...

O'REILLY: It's bull.

MATTHIESSEN: It's a little disingenuous to say the least.

O'REILLY: OK. Are bull and disingenuous the same thing?


O'REILLY: All right. Final question for you. I say it's all about money, that Immelt is one of the guys. That's why he's doing business with Iran. He doesn't care. He just wants to make money. And this is a money play. They don't want to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up this Hudson River.

But there might be another element here. You face-to-faced him about it. You looked at him and you talked to him. Is there something else in play here?

MATTHIESSEN: I don't think so. I think in the end it's a money issue. He's admitted he's not an environmentalist. He's admitted the main motivation behind the Ecomagination venture is to make money for their shareholders. And this is the same thing.

The reason they're avoiding the Hudson River cleanup or delaying as long as possible and all the other 75 superfund sites around the country is to avoid the liability and the costs it's going to incur on the company, on the shareholders.

GE has a wonderful opportunity here to match the Ecomagination venture with cleanup, to clean up these communities around the country. And if they don't do that, then I think groups like ours are going to remind the public that it's not all that it looks like.


O'REILLY: So far this year, General Electric stock has been downgraded by JPMorgan, Bear Stearns, Oppenheimer and Credit Suisse. How Mr. Immelt keeps his job remains a great mystery of the universe.

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