NY officials seek greater power to sue water polluters

Officials with the Town of Hempstead are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to pass legislation that would make it easier for local municipalities and water districts to sue polluters and recoup treatment costs for contaminated water.

The Town of Hempstead's drinking water has some of the highest levels of emerging contaminants in the entire state, according to a report by the New York Public Interest Research Group, also known as NYPIRG.

"Affordable water is an issue across this island," Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito said. "And our water needs to be clean, safe, and affordable."

That's why Town Supervisor Laura Gillen is taking legal action against the manufacturing companies that she claims are responsible for that pollution. But the Town faces a major roadblock.

"Current law dictates that an action to be filed in this regard must be filed within three years of any contamination occurring," Gillen said.

State Sen. Jim Gaughran introduced a bill, now on its way to Cuomo's desk, that would close that loophole. It would allow water providers to sue polluters up to three years after contaminants are found and use the money to help fund clean-up costs.

"Now we are giving them the tools so that the water companies can go and sue," Gaughran said. "Hopefully not have their lawsuits thrown out, and recoup hundreds of millions, if not billions."

Town officials say that they've included funding in their capital plan for the design of treatment systems to remove contaminants, and have applied for grants.

However, the clean-up will still cost around $50 million, placed at the feet of taxpayers.

"They need to man up and step up to the plate to take care of it," Hempstead resident Michael Sheridan said. "So I'm all for government interacting and taking the next step."

Cuomo's office said the governor will review the bill.

Next Tuesday, the Town is voting to finalize the lawsuit, which cannot be filed until this legislation passes.