The critical official assessment allowing a major expansion of the Peace Bridge international border crossing to escape full environmental scrutiny took wildly improper liberties with the facts and must be withdrawn, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The complaint details how information showing substantially increased traffic and serious adverse health effects on an already asthma-stricken community from expanding this border crossing was deliberately excluded from the record.
The Peace Bridge complex is one of the busiest passenger and commercial vehicle crossings between the U.S. (at Buffalo, New York) and Canada (at Fort Erie, Ontario). In late 2012, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) green-lighted a major expansion of the Peace Bridge complex by issuing an environmental report known as a “Categorical Exclusion.” This report concluded that “there would be no significant impacts, either individually or cumulatively, to the local environment or quality of life associated with implementation of Proposed Project.” That finding is utterly false but politically valuable because it excused the project from any further review.
In its complaint, PEER details how this finding violated federal law as well as GSA’s own rules by relying upon false, misleading and unsubstantiated information. Pointing to stacks of internal emails, the complaint charges that GSA –
· Knowingly ignored ample evidence that the expansion would be expected to increase traffic. Indeed, the entire economic argument for the project was that more traffic would mean more jobs;
· Sat on studies showing that due to the volume of diesel exhaust emitted by the commercial trucks, residents living near the Peace Bridge are vulnerable to an array of life-threatening conditions, such as asthma; leukemia; lung, breast and other cancers; heart disease; birth defects; and neurological disorders. The asthma rate in this community is already four times the national average; and
· Improperly piecemealed the project scope so that its full impact did not have to be acknowledged.
“Peace Bridge is a classic case of political pressure leading an agency to fictionalize an official record – and that is against the law,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to direct contact between GSA and the staffs of high-level project proponents such as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “The public health implications for this community cannot be ignored.”
Under the Data Quality Act, federal agencies are required to correct any document distributed or relied upon if it does not meet standards of accuracy and reliability. Under GSA guidelines, the agency has 60 calendar days to respond to the PEER complaint, although it may obtain a short extension for good cause. If the agency rejects the complaint, PEER can appeal the issue to the GSA Administrator.
“We are simply seeking to correct an obviously flawed record. To do so requires that this Categorical Exclusion be rescinded and a new peer-reviewed assessment of project impacts take place,” added Ruch, noting that through a similar complaint PEER recently forced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to disclaim its endorsement for the safety of synthetic turf. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own set of facts.”