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Schumer urges EPA to act on Alcoa’s clean-up plan

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MASSENA - Sen. Charles E. “Chuck” Schumer is urging federal environmental remediation officials to move ahead on their proposed clean-up of the Grasse River in order to support and strengthen the economy of the north country.

Mr. Schumer’s comments come three days after Alcoa announced its plans to modernize its Massena aluminum production facilities, which is a requirement of a deal with the state that guarantees a long-term supply of low-cost electricity from the New York Power Authority

However, Alcoa has also stated that its decision to modernize is contingent on whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chooses to move ahead on its proposed Grasse River Remediation project, an estimated $245 million project to be paid for entirely by Alcoa.

Mr. Schumer feels the proposed remediation plan is the best option to remove PCBs released by the aluminum manufacturer, while not costing Alcoa so much that the company wouldn’t have the capital left to modernize its Massena operations.

During a visit with company and local government officials, Mr. Schumer said Alcoa has a limited amount of capital, and that if the company is forced to spend too much on its Grasse River cleanup, it won’t have enough left over to modernize its facilities, a project that many see as a crucial step toward ensuring Alcoa’s continued presence in Massena.

“We are happy to have a (clean-up) plan on the merits, but it shouldn’t go overboard. The cost of that (proposed clean-up) would allow Alcoa enough money to modernize its plants,” Mr. Schumer said.

Following his visit, Sen. Schumer’s office issued the following press release:

MASSENA - Today, at Alcoa Inc. in Massena, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer joined Alcoa officials and workers to urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to finalize its cleanup plan for the Grasse River in the coming weeks, in order to turn Alcoa’s commitment to Massena and the North Country into a final deal. While Alcoa’s board has authorized investment in multi-million dollar facility upgrades at the Massena plant, the job-creating investment cannot move forward without the finalization of the Environmental Protection Agency’s cleanup plan.

After years of delay and uncertainty, under previous EPA administrations, Schumer contends it is critical the final cost is fair and that there are no further delays to the release of the final Record of Decision (ROD). Schumer said that with the completion of a final ROD, the company will have a better understanding of the terms and costs of their requirements to clean up the river, and will be able to move forward with additional job-creating investments via the Massena plant modernization. In addition, if the final ROD were to increase dramatically in cost from the $245 million detailed in the EPA’s preliminary estimations, Alcoa might not be able to afford it’s recently authorized $600 million investment, which is expected to create construction and permanent jobs, estimated to be in the hundreds.

Schumer has worked closely with Alcoa and local stakeholders over the past two years to ensure that the federal EPA moved swiftly and fairly in that process, which had dragged on for a number of years. The EPA released its Proposed Remedial Action Plan (PRAP) for the cleanup of pollutants in the river in October 2012, and final approval of that plan is expected in the near future. Schumer said it must occur in April, because all due diligence has been completed, and failure to grant final approval for the cleanup serves no substantive purpose and would only delay in work on modernization of the Massena operations. The river cleanup is estimated to cost about $245 million. The modernization investment would retain hundreds of jobs in St. Lawrence County, and would create others, securing this vital industry for decades to come.

“Once the EPA acts, the North Country will have cause for celebration: Alcoa, our region’s largest private sector employer, will be able to move to the next phase of a multi-million investment at the Massena plant,” said Schumer. “This will create jobs, boost the local economy and improve the environment. It will also anchor Alcoa and its jobs in St. Lawrence County for decades to come. Now, the EPA must give Alcoa and local stakeholders the final approval to move forward with this game-changing, environment-improving, economy-boosting moment.”

“Alcoa and the Massena community has had no stronger advocate with the EPA than Senator Schumer.The Senator has worked tirelessly to help achieve a reasonable solution that cleans up the river and allows Alcoa to keep investing in the North Country-making Saturday’s announcement possible. That’s why we’re very excited to have Senator Schumer here today, and are grateful for his continued support,” said Robert Lenney, Alcoa Massena Plant Manager.

Schumer visited Alcoa in August 2012 and launched his effort for the EPA and other relevant federal agencies to approve and expedite the publication of the PRAP. In August, the EPA heeded Schumer’s call and released its plan for the cleanup of pollutants in the Grasse River in Massena, which he said would help boost and expedite Alcoa’s plans to improve the local environment and upgrade its manufacturing operations in Massena. Schumer said that the EPA is nearly finished finalizing the PRAP in the form of the ROD and he expects that it will be a fair and balanced approach similar to the plan released in October, which gives Alcoa’s Board of Directors the confidence necessary to reaffirm their commitment to St. Lawrence County and all of its workers.Schumer said that the EPA plan must be released in April.

“The lack of finality around this process undermined the company’s ability to make future expansion plans. The light is clearly visible at the end of the tunnel, and it will beckon a brighter future for the North Country’s economy and its environment,” continued Schumer. “I applaud the EPA, Alcoa and the local leaders, including the St. Regis Mohawk community, for working in a professional, focused and collaborative way to get us to this point, and now the EPA must get us over the finish line.”

Schumer applauded the recent deal between the New York Power Authority and Alcoa Inc. Schumer has long fought for a low-cost electricity deal and at a critical point in the process under Governor Spitzer, Senator Schumer made it clear that New York State and the New York Power Authority should prioritize a relationship with Alcoa, and move aggressively to lock in a long-term deal to support and sustain this critical North Country employer.

As the largest private employer in the North Country, with over 1,000 manufacturing jobs, Alcoa is a critical fixture in Massena and other local communities. The proposed $600 million for modernizations and upgrades have marked a critical step forward in the company’s conditional approval, and will ensure the future of the Massena operations for at least three decades. The PRAP, which was released by the EPA in October 2012, includes the capping and dredging of industrial waste in the Grasse River. Alcoa has already exhibited expertise in employing successful capping and dredging methods in the Grasse River over the past 23 years.

Specifically, the plan calls for dredging of contaminated sediment from the river basin and capping of other segments in the river in order to contain hazardous sediment and isolate pollutants. The Grasse River, a tributary of the St. Lawrence River, flows from the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, through the towns of Canton and Massena in the St. Lawrence Valley, and meets the St. Lawrence River downstream of Massena. Large parts of the Grasse River are popular with anglers, since it is stocked with a variety of trout and bass species. As a result of elevated PCB levels found in fish in the area, the lower Grasse River has been placed under fish consumption advisory by the New York State Department of Health.

Alcoa Inc. is a New York-based company that specializes in mining, refining, smelting, fabricating and recycling aluminum. The company is currently the world’s third largest aluminum producer and maintains operations in 31 countries. Alcoa’s Massena, NY facility is the longest continually operating aluminum facility in the world, currently employing over 1,000 people, and contributing $340 million to the local economy annually through payroll, taxes, and contributions to community events. Alcoa Inc. is also the largest private sector employer north of Syracuse and has been a vital part of the Massena community since 1902. The company is committed to both the human and environmental success of the region, and has been a key player in the restoration of the area along the Grasse and St. Lawrence rivers. Through funding and continuous research, Alcoa plans to monitor and reduce its ecological footprint in the region, while helping to revitalize its natural surroundings.

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