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A gate leading to the former GE site in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.NEPM's Nancy Cohen explores the economic and environmental legacy General Electric left behind in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where only a small staff for the company remains.

Former Pittsfield Mayor Remembered As Key Player In GE, EPA Agreement

Gerald Doyle, Jr., who was mayor of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, from 1998 to 2002, has died at 62. He was a key player in talks between General Electric and the government to clean up toxic waste left behind by the company.

Doyle led the city at a time when Pittsfield was grappling with the loss of thousands of GE jobs that had anchored the local economy, and the need to clean up toxic PCBs used by GE in Pittsfield to build electrical transformers.

PCBs had been found in the yards of dozens of homes in the city, a school yard, a park, the vast plant site and the Housatonic River.

Bryan Olson, director of the Superfund and Emergency Management Division of EPA New England, remembers Doyle as an affable guy and a fierce city advocate.

Olson, who at the time was the EPA’s project manager in Pittsfield, said Doyle fought for the city to have a seat at the negotiating table when GE and government agencies hammered out a cleanup agreement. He said the city wanted to avoid the stigma of becoming a federal Superfund site because of fears it would hurt the economy. GE offered to invest in the city's economic development if it could avoid the cost of the Superfund site.

“Mayor Doyle was able to play the sort of facilitator, a little bit of a role, between GE and EPA because he knew what GE was willing to do for him,” Olson said. “But he knew that would never happen unless EPA got the cleanup, and he wanted the cleanup as well.”

Olson added that Doyle did have a good relationship with both sides.

“He knew each of those, GE and EPA — both had to be satisfied in order for him to make the city whole,” he said.

Olson said Doyle was key in getting the agreement, known as the consent decree, which still guides the cleanup today.

Environmental advocates were not part of those negotiations. 

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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