The Gowanus Canal, a nearly two mile body of water in Brooklyn, is one of the most polluted sites in New York City. In 2010 the Canal was placed on the EPA's Superfund Priorities List. With this designation, the EPA can compel parties responsible for the pollution to pay for the Canal's cleanup. Holding the appropriate parties responsible, however, is not a simple matter.
The Canal has been the entryway for contaminants almost continuously since the nineteenth century. Determining which entities – factories, shippers, New York City itself – caused harm and determining their proportion of liability is almost impossible decades after the event. Indeed, many of the original polluters are companies that no longer exist. Nonetheless, the EPA is in the process of identifying "potentially responsible parties" and is prepared to bring legal action to force them to pay their share of the cleanup.
The EPA's actions raise a number of compelling legal, ethical and policy issues regarding our approach to the restoration of polluted public areas. On May 8th Baruch College's Robert Zicklin Center for Corporate Integrity and Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute, in partnership with the Sustainability Practice Network, will convene a panel to address the question of who should pay for the Gowanus Canal cleanup.