Environmental Consultant’s Disclaimer of Liability to Vendor effective against Third Party Purchaser

by Stanley D. Berger, Fogler Rubinoff

On July 23, 2018 the Court of Appeal for Newfoundland and Labrador in the case of Community Mental Health Initiative Inc. v. Summit Lounge Ltd. 2018 NLCA 42 upheld summary judgment dismissing a purchaser’s claim against two engineering companies (consultants) alleging negligence in the conduct of a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment performed for the vendor. The agreement between the consultants and the vendor and the final report both indicated that the assessment was prepared solely for the benefit of the vendor and that the consultants accepted no responsibility for any damages suffered by any third party. Significantly, the plaintiff-purchaser had knowledge of the disclaimer, having been provided with a copy of the final report by its real estate agent prior to the closing of the transaction. The Court of Appeal referred to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Edgeworth Construction ltd. v. N.D. Lea & Associates Ltd. [1993] 3.S.C.R. 206 as well as decisions from appeal courts in Ontario Wolverine Tube (Canada) Inc. (1995) , 26 O.R. (3d) 577 and B.C., Kokanee Mortgage M.I.C. Ltd. 2018 BCCA 151 and summarized the legal principles as follows: (at par. 23) “… an express disclaimer of liability can be an effective bar against a claim by a third party who relied on work in the knowledge of the disclaimer. Permitting third parties to rely on reports which are expressly protected by a disclaimer would undermine the ability of contracting commercial parties to govern their own affairs.”

IMPLICATIONS FOR REAL ESTATE TRANSACTIONS AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONSULTANTS?

The long established principle of privity of contract i.e. that the rights and obligations in a contract apply only to the parties to the contract have been further tested by this decision. For engineering consultants, the decision highlights the importance of exacting express disclaimer clauses restricting responsibility for the reporting information to the party retaining them. For purchasers of real estate, it reinforces the necessity of obtaining indemnities from the vendor for undiscovered contamination or if that is not realistic, retaining an independent environmental consultant to verify any consulting reports given to them by the vendor.

This article was first published on the Fogler Rubinoff LLP website.

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About the Author

Mr. Stanley Berger serves as the Partner at Fogler, Rubinoff LLP. Mr. Berger joined the law firm of Fogler Rubinoff on July 4, 2013. Before joining Fogler Rubinoff, he served for 14 years as Assistant General Counsel to Ontario Power Generation Inc (OPG). In that capacity he provided legal services on licensing, environmental assessment, regulatory compliance, liability, security, decommissioning and waste management to the Nuclear Division of OPG.  Mr. Berger provided strategic legal advice and representation on aboriginal litigation and participated in First Nation settlement negotiations. Prior to joining OPG, he served as the Deputy Director of the Law Division for Prosecutions for the Ontario Ministry of Environment. In that capacity he managed the prosecution staff and helped shape prosecution policy. 

Setting New Legal Standards And Timelines: Alberta’s Remediation Regulation

Article by Alan Harvie, Norton Rose Fullbright Canada LLP

Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) has amended regulations that will require all contamination caused by spills that are reported to regulators after January 1, 2019 to be delineated and assessed as soon as possible through a Phase 2 environmental site assessment that meets AEP’s standards and that is then either remediated within two years or subject to an approved remedial action plan with an approved final clean-up date. These are significant departures from the current requirements.

On June 1, 2018 the Remediation Certificate Amendment Regulation was passed into law under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA). It amends the existing Remediation Certificate Regulation in a number of important ways, including changing the name to the Remediation Regulation.

Groundwater monitoring wells

The Remediation Regulation will be administered by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) for contamination at upstream oil and gas sites, such as wells, pipelines and facilities, and by AEP for all other sites.

Under the EPEA, a person responsible for the release of a substance into the environment that causes or has the potential to cause an adverse effect is under a legal duty, as soon as they know about the release or ought to have known about it, to report it to regulators. They must also, as soon as they know or ought to have known about the release, take all reasonable measures to repair, remedy and confine the effects of the substance, remove or otherwise dispose of the substance in such a manner as to effect maximum protection to human life, health and the environment and restore the environment to a condition satisfactory to the regulators.

Although persons have always been legally required, under the EPEA, to clean up spills, historically there was no legal requirement as to how a person was to assess contamination or any specific time limit as to how long a person could take to remediate the spill as required by the EPEA. This has now changed.

New timelines

The Remediation Regulation requires that a person responsible for a spill that is reported after January 1, 2019 must:

  • As soon as possible, either remediate the spill to meet the criteria set out in the Alberta Tier 1 and 2 Soil and Groundwater Remediation Guidelines and submit a report to the regulators about the remediation or undertake a Phase 2 environment site assessment of the site that meets the requirements of AEP’s Environmental Site Assessment Standard.
  • If the site cannot be remediated to the satisfaction of the regulators within two years, then the person responsible for the spill must submit a remedial action plan (RAP) that complies with AEP’s Alberta Tier 1 and Tier Soil and Groundwater Remediation GuidelinesEnvironmental Site Assessment StandardExposure Control Guide and Risk Management Plan Guide.
  • The RAP must include a period of time for completion of the remediation that is acceptable to the regulators.
  • The person responsible must take the remedial measures set out in the approved RAP by such time.

New legal standards

The Remediation Regulation previously incorporated into law the requirements to use the Tier 1 and 2 Soil and Groundwater Remediation Guidelines for obtaining a remediation certificate under the EPEA. It now requires that the Guidelines also be followed for assessing contaminated sites and therefore eliminates some historical practices in which persons responsible for spills used other clean-up guidelines or criteria.

The Remediation Regulation also requires the use of the Environmental Site Assessment Standard. The Standard sets out how contamination is to be vertically and horizontally delineated and assessed. The Remediation Regulation requires that this work be done within two years.

If the spill cannot be remediated within two years, then a RAP which meets the Exposure Control Guide and the Risk Management Plan Guide, and which has been approved by the regulators, must be in effect at the end of the two-year period. For some large contaminated sites, it may be challenging to fully delineate the contamination, develop a RAP and have the regulators approve it within two years. Furthermore, the clean-up under the RAP must have a stated end point.

Abandoned oil well equipment

These changes diverge from historical practices where, in some cases, contamination delineation has taken several or more years, and remedial actions, if any, have not been well planned and have had no fixed end point.

Implications

The implications of the Remediation Regulation for persons responsible for contamination are such that they will no longer be able to ignore or may only be able to slowly proceed with assessing contamination or simply monitor it over the long term. Concrete steps must now be taken according to set time periods and such steps must comply with AEP’s guidelines and standards.

Next steps

As mentioned, the new requirements to delineate and remediate a site apply only to spills reported on or after January 1, 2019. Before then, AEP is expected to release further guidance, host stakeholder workshops and potentially amend the Remediation Regulation.

 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

This article was first published on the Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP Website.

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About the Author

Alan Harvie is a senior partner at Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP and practices out of the Calgary office.  He has practised energy and environmental/regulatory law since 1989 and regularly deals with commercial, operational, environmental and regulatory issues, especially for the upstream oil and gas, energy, waste disposal and chemical industries. He is a member of our energy and environmental departments.

Mr. Harvie also has significant legal experience in acting for the oil and gas industry in commercial transactions and regulatory matters, including enforcement proceedings, common carrier and processor applications, forced poolings, downspacings and holdings, rateable take, and contested facility, well and pipeline applications. He has also dealt extensively with commercial, environmental and regulatory issues concerning thermal and renewable power plants, electrical transmission and distribution lines, tourism and recreation projects, forestry, mining, agriculture, commercial real estate, industrial facilities, sewage plants, hazardous waste landfills and treatment facilities, transportation of dangerous goods and water storage reservoirs.

Mr. Harvie regularly advises clients about environmental assessments and permitting, spill response, enforcement proceedings, contaminated site remediation, facility decommissioning and reclamation, chemical compliance (DSL, NDSL, MSDS and HMIRC), nuclear licensing, crude-by-rail projects and product recycling and stewardship requirements.

 

New Technology on Track to Vitalize Confined Space HazMat Training

by Steven Pike , Argon Electronics

Teams operating in confined spaces within hazardous industrial buildings or process facilities understand all too well the importance of adhering to strict health and safety regulations.

The hazards that confined spaces present can be physical or atmospheric in nature – from the risks of asphyxiation or entrapment to exposure to extremes of temperature or the release of toxic chemicals.

Confined Space Entry

According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, on average two people die in the US every day as the result of incidents that take place within confined spaces.

In many cases too, it is not just the victim who is at risk, but the rescuer or first responder who may be unaware of the hazard they are about to encounter.

Directives such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations (COMAH), the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR), Atex and many others all have a pivotal role to play in ensuring safety.

But despite the emphasis on prevention, any potentially harmful chemical release, and specifically one that occurs within the context of a confined space, will require personnel who are skilled and confident to handle a variety of complex challenges.

With these challenges in mind, a new app-based multigas simulator technology, specifically designed for use in confined space settings, is scheduled for release in late summer 2018.

And the new system looks set to deliver an enhanced level of realism for industrial HazMat training scenarios.

Applying CWA Technology to Industrial HazMat Training

The use of simulation technology for chemical warfare agent (CWA) training is already well established, with intelligent, computer-based training aids such as Argon Electronics’ PlumeSIM and PlumeSIM-SMART systems currently in use by military forces around the world.

The launch of PlumeSIM in 2008 provided CWA and CBRN instructors with a simulation package that enabled them to use their laptops, in conjunction with a map or images, to plan a diverse range of field and table-top exercises.

The type of substance, whether a single or multiple source and an array of environmental conditions (such as wind direction and speed) could all be easily configured. And the innovative technology enabled whole exercises to be recorded for after action review (AAR) and future contingency planning.

In 2016 came the introduction of PlumeSIM-SMART – which offered similar capabilities to PlumeSIM but replaced the use of simulator devices in the field with the simplicity of a mobile phone.

The ability to transform a mobile phone into a look-alike gas detector was to prove especially practical (and budget-friendly) for high-hazard industrial organizations and municipal responders.

And using mobiles offered some additional and unexpected benefits in that it enabled field exercises to take place in any location.

Realistic Multigas Training

The newest addition to Argon’s simulation technology portfolio has been devised for specific use within the training environs of confined spaces and multi-level buildings.

The device will offer HazMat instructors the flexibility to simulate specific levels and concentrations of gases, whether these be in the form of a gas escape or a dangerous device (or devices) concealed within a building.

It will also be highly configurable to enable instructors to select the use of either single or multigas sensors within their training scenarios.

The hardware will be identical to that currently available for CWA training and toxic industrial response training. It has also been configured to interact with existing hand-held gas detection simulators, such as PlumeSIM-SMART, to provide an enhanced level of realism and a more focused training experience.

Simulation sources will be able to be set to emit a signal that replicates the conditions of a particular substance, a low level or oxygen or an explosive atmosphere.

And as students move around the training environment, their display readings will adjust accordingly to simulate an event such as a breached alarm.

The latest detector also promises to overcome the issues posed by communications interference within buildings where GPS technology can often be limited.

Working in confined spaces within industrial complexes can present a daunting array of hazards, both for the staff operating within the facilities and for the emergency teams charged with first response.

The continued development of simulator technology can help to address these challenges by providing realistic, hands-on training opportunities that replicate real-life conditions.

This article was originally published in the Argon Electronics website.

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About the Author

Steven Pike is the Founder and Managing Director of Argon Electronics, a world leader in the development and manufacture of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) and hazardous material (HazMat) detector simulators.

In use worldwide, Argon simulators have applications for training and preparedness within civil response, the military, EoD, unconventional terrorism / accidental release, and international treaty verification, with a growing presence in the nuclear energy generation and education markets. We have been granted a number of international patents in this field.

United States: EPA Soliciting Comments On BUILD Act

Article by Phillip E. Hoover and Vickie C. RusekSmith Gambrell & Russell LLP

The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to streamline the cleanup and reuse of National Priorities List sites with an emphasis on private party participation and private investment. NPL site designation was once a popular way for affected communities to secure federal funding for remediation, but the program has long suffered from lack of funding. Now, the Trump administration seeks to streamline the delisting of NPL sites in the same manner as the redevelopment of brownfields. One example of this initiative is the Brownfields Utilization, Investment and Local Development (BUILD) Act, which was enacted on March 23, 2018, and reauthorizes EPA’s Brownfields program at current funding levels through 2023. EPA is currently developing policy guidance to implement the BUILD Act, and is soliciting comment on three of the Act’s provisions: (1) the authority to increase the per-site cleanup grant amounts to $500,000; (2) the new multi-purpose grant authority; and (3) the new small community assistance grant authority. Click here for more information about these provisions and submitting comments to EPA.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

This article was first published on the Smith, Gambrell & Russell LLP website.

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About the Authors

Phillip E. Hoover is a Partner in the Environmental and Sustainability Practice Areas of Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP.  Mr. Hoover’s practice includes providing counsel on numerous environmental regulatory matters, as well as the redevelopment of environmentally impacted properties. These include state and federal superfund sites, corporate mergers and acquisitions of such properties. His environmental experience includes representation of Potentially Responsible Parties at superfund sites. He has negotiated RCRA permits and corrective action plans on behalf of clients in various states.

Vickie Chung Rusek is an Associate in the Environmental Practice of Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP. Ms. Rusek represents clients in all aspects of environmental compliance, enforcement, permitting, and litigation, including Superfund cleanups, Resource Conservation Recovery Act compliance, Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act permitting and compliance, and environmental tort litigation.

The Commodification of Phase I ESA’s and the Need for Innovation

Introduction

Individuals who read environmental site assessments (“ESAs”) in the early 1990’s as part of their job will likely remember the unevenness of recommendations and conclusions and the wide range in the quality of reporting.  During that time, as an in-house environmental engineer at a major law firm, I likely read more ESA reports from more environmental consulting firms than I care to remember.  To this day I still read my fair share of ESA reports from various consultants as part of my job.

Standardization

In the 1990’s there was a growing demand from users of ESA reports for some form of standardization.  Back then, and to this day, a potential buyer of a property and the associated lender used an ESA report to aide in determining the monetary risk associated with any environmental liabilities linked to a property.  The wide variety of styles, coverage, disclaimers, recommendations, and conclusions in ESA reports back in the early 1990’s made that task very hard.

More than one consultant in the 1990’s would try to absolve themselves of liability by merely stating the findings of the investigation and avoiding any recommendation or conclusions.  Others would include disclaimers that would essentially hold them blameless for all errors and or omissions.

The first standardized ESA reports that came across my desk conformed with the United States ASTM E1527 standard published in 1993.  The first Canadian ESA standard (Z768) was issued in 1994 by the Standard Council of Canada.

In Canada, the latest version of the CSA Z768 standard is what is used as starting point for conducting Phase I ESA’s.  A vast majority of ESA reports that I read begin quoting the CSA standard but with the added qualifying statement that the report is in “substantial conformance” with the standard.

Commodity

Currently, many of the major lenders in Canada have lists of approved consultants for ESA’s.  Any borrower can choose freely from the list and arrange for an ESA on a property.  Other organizations have similar lists.

The CSA Z768 standard combined with the lists of qualified consultants typically supplied by lending institutions has created, in my opinion, a commodification of Phase I ESA’s.  An unsophisticated and occasional user of environmental services would most likely choose a consultant to conduct a Phase I ESA based on price.

Sophisticated buyers of environmental services have their own favourite consultants.  To earn the trust of a regular user of ESA services, a consultant needs to be able provide a clear explanation of environmental liabilities and a strong justification for the need further investigation (i.e., Phase II ESA).  The exemplary consultant has the ability to uncover the less than obvious environmental liabilities.  All trusted consultants provide timely report in a cost-effective manner.

The advantage of the sophisticated buyers of ESA services is the experience gained from reading reports from dozens of different firms and knowledge of the revelations and oversights of each.  Even amongst sophisticated buyers, there is a level of commodification that exists as they would likely have anywhere from 4 to 5 firms (any maybe more) that they trust to do good work.

Differentiation

When being sold environmental services from consultants, I typically ask a consultant what differentiates them from their competitors with respect tot the conduct of a Phase I ESA.  In essence, I want them to articulate to me how their ESA work is superior to the competition.  The typical list of replies can be found in the table below.  Based on the majority of responses I receive, it is my conclusion that the consultants themselves are unknowingly conceding that they are selling a commodity service.  The differentiators they describe can apply to almost any firm that provides the service.

Table 1: Common Reasons Cited by Environmental Consultants for Choosing Them

“Cost effective”

“better”
“Fast turn-around time” “more effective”
“Use only experienced assessors” “more thorough”
“Experienced reviewers and supervising Staff”

“quality controls”

Innovation

So how can a consulting firm give clients what they want – more certainty on risk associated with a property – and differentiate the ESA service they provide?

I have found one consultant that I now work with has risen above the commodity Phase I ESA.  This consulting firm, through innovation, has gone beyond the bare minimum of a Phase I ESA that would conform to the CSA Standard and utilized technology to enhance the Phase I ESA.

A standard Phase I ESA requires only observation as part of the site visit portion of the ESA.  The use of intrusive testing is saved for a Phase II.  However, with the utilization of field instrumentation that is non-intrusive, an enhanced Phase I can provide much more information that a standard Phase I ESA.

The environmental consulting firm, Altech Consulting Group, uses magnetic surveys as a standard part of the its Phase I ESAs.  A magnetometer measures the magnetic potential underground through non-obtrusive means.  It can identify the presence of underground steel tanks or drums, and other ferrous buried objects (i.e. pipes).

Enhanced Phase I ESA – Seeing underground with the magnetic survey

By including a magnetic survey as a standard part of a Phase I ESA, Altech has more information from which to base its conclusions and recommendations.  It can utilize the information found from the magnetic survey along with historical data and interviews with persons knowledgeable of the property to have a stronger argument for the need for a Phase II ESA or not.

Chad Stewart, the head of the environmental investigation group at Altech stated “one of the biggest sources of environmental liability at the majority of sites is leaks from underground storage tanks or pipelines.  By including a magnetic survey as part of our Phase I ESA, we are in a much better position to state if further intrusive investigation is required.  Our approach saves the client time and money.”

As I said earlier, I have seen my share of ESA reports from numerous consultants.  Their a some that are very quick to recommend a Phase II ESA based on the limited information that only hints that a UST may have been present.  A vast majority of the subsequent Phase II findings reveal that there is no contamination.

Any means of bringing non-intrusive testing and measurement techniques into use for a standard Phase I ESA is a good thing in my opinion.  The more information that can be obtained during the Phase I ESA, the better the decision making on the need for a Phase II.

By not having to perform an unnecessary Phase II ESA, a client could save tens of thousands of dollars.  By performing a Phase II ESA based on information obtained from a magnetic survey that is a standard part of a Phase I ESA, a client could potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Ontario Legal Report: Thompson Fuels Ordered To Pay Costs

Article by Paula LombardiSiskinds LLP

The case of Gendron v. Thompson Fuels, related to a home furnace oil tank that developed a leak in December 2008. The leak caused damage to the Gendron’s home and the surrounding environment, including nearby Sturgeon Lake. The City of Kawartha Lakes cleaned up the Lake.

On July 17, 2017 the court released its decision on this matter, (2017 ONSC 4009) granting judgement in favour of Gendron against Thompson Fuels. The court appropriated 60% liability to Gendron and 40% to Thompson Fuels. The parties agreed that, based on the court’s findings, Gendron’s total damages were $2,161,570, and Thompson Fuels’ portion of those costs equalled $901,747 ($864,628 plus $37,119 interest). In that decision the court found that the two remaining defendants, the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (“TSSA”) and Les Reservoirs D’Acier De Granby Inc. (“Granby”) were not liable.

Closeup of an oil slick in water with fall colors in the grass on the shore

The parties were unable to agree on costs and requested that submissions on costs be deferred until the decision on the post-trial motions was released. On March 29, 2018 the Court ordered Thompson Fuels to pay Gendron’s costs on a partial indemnity basis in the amount of $473,000.00 (2018 ONSC 2079). In arriving at this amount, the Court considered the Gendron’s contributory negligence, the costs of various post-trial motions brought by the parties, the reasonableness of Gendron’s bill of costs, and the fact that neither party had beat its offer to settle.

The Court then awarded $150,000 in costs to TSSA as against Gendron and Thompson Fuels, who had cross-claimed against TSSA. The Court further ordered Gendron and Thompson Fuels to contribute $140,000 and $10,000, respectively. The Court also ordered Gendron and Thompson Fuels to pay equal shares of TSSA’s costs of $7,500.00 for the post-trial motions. In deciding to award only partial indemnity costs, the Court found that given TSSA’s limited involvement at trial, it did not require two lawyers to attend at trial. The Court also noted that even though Gendron’s action in negligence against TSSA had failed, the trial Court had found that the TSSA had not been “a model of efficiency or clarity” in its dealings with Gendron.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

This article was first published on the Siskinds Law Firm web site.

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About the author

Paula Lombardi is a partner of Siskinds LLP,  and practices in the areas of environmental, municipal, regulatory and administrative law.  Prior to joining Siskinds, Paula worked as an associate at a Bay Street law firm where her practice focused on occupational health and safety, environmental and regulatory matters.

Paula recently spent two years as in-house counsel for a major privately owned US corporation, whose owner is on the Forbes 500 list, and was responsible for all Canadian legal and business issues relating to the import and export of goods, transportation of hazardous materials, remediation of contaminated sites, construction of large infrastructure projects, regulatory compliance, NAFTA matters, and preparation of environmental assessments in the US and Canada.

Paula has a great deal of experience in: providing due diligence advice; dealing with contamination issues; handling of organic chemicals and hazardous wastes; obtaining environmental approvals; obtaining planning and development approvals; providing advice to municipalities; defending environmental prosecutions; and assisting companies with environmental and regulatory compliance. Paula has appeared before numerous administrative tribunals.

Despite Efforts to Roll-Back Other Program Requirements, U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Continues to Prioritize Superfund Cleanups

by Van P. Hilderbrand, Jr. and Marian C. Hwang

 

 

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) Administrator Scott Pruitt has made it clear that one of his top priorities during his tenure is to expedite cleanups at contaminated sites across the country. To achieve this goal while facing potential budget cuts, he has made several significant decisions over the last year to overhaul and restructure the Superfund cleanup program from within.

First, as we discussed in our earlier post, A New Budget, a New EPA Administrator, and New Uncertainty for Superfund Cleanups, Administrator Pruitt issued a memorandum on May 9, 2017 centralizing decision-making on major Superfund remedies to EPA headquarters. Specifically, final decisions on remedies exceeding $50 million are to be made by Administrator Pruitt or the Deputy Administrator, not by Regional Administrators. According to the memorandum, this change is designed to improve the remedy selection process by promoting increased oversight and accountability and by “enhancing consistency in remedy selection across states and the regions.”

Next, Administrator Pruitt specially convened an EPA Superfund Task Force on May 22, 2017. In our post, EPA’s Task Force Recommendations to Revamp and Expedite Superfund Cleanups and Process – A Welcome Change, we discussed the Task Force Report, issued on July 22, 2017, which identified 5 goals, 13 strategies, and 42 recommendations to (1) expedite Superfund cleanups; (2) re-invigorate responsible party cleanup and reuse; (3) encourage private investment; (4) promote redevelopment and community revitalization; and (5) engage partners and stakeholders. We have seen many of these recommendations realized, including the development and issuance of a priority list of Superfund sites targeted for immediate attention by Administrator Pruitt.

Recent EPA Realignment in Approval Process Sees the Administrator’s Role Expanding

Composite image map showing TRI facilities in blue and Superfund NPL sites in red

In a recent shift to expand the influence of the Administrator’s Office, Administrator Pruitt issued a second memorandum on April 26, 2018 clarifying that EPA’s Office of Land & Emergency Management and regional offices should “coordinate and consult with the Administrator’s Office early on when developing” other significant actions (in addition to remedies) related to costly Superfund cleanups. Such actions would include Amendments to Records of Decision (“ROD”) or Explanations of Significant Differences (“ESD”) that are projected to either increase the estimated cost of a remedy to greater than $50 million or are projected to increase the estimated cost of a remedy that is already greater than $50 million by any amount.

The memorandum also specifically notes that consultations should occur when developing Non-Time-Critical Removal Actions (“NTCRA”) estimated to exceed $50 million. As in the earlier 2017 memorandum, Administrator Pruitt says the additional coordination and cooperation will result in “more accountability and consistency throughout the EPA’s regions.” What this means for potentially responsible parties (“PRPs”) at large Superfund sites is that Administrator Pruitt will play an increasingly important role in the decision-making process.

Neither memorandum addressed any change in the role of the National Remedy Review Board (“NRRB”) and the interplay between the NRRB and the increasing oversight and decision-making role of Administrator Pruitt. The NRRB is an internal EPA peer review group that reviews and comments on remedial actions and NTCRAs costing more than $25 million. Questions remain whether the NRRB only reviews actions costing between $25 and $50 million, as not to impede Administrator Pruitt’s review, or do both NRRB and Administrator Pruitt review actions costing in excess of $50 million?

Uncertainty in the Superfund Program

This step comes amid increased turmoil and uncertainty in the Administrator’s Office and the Superfund program. Administrator Pruitt’s top advisor on the Superfund program and chairman of the Superfund Task Force, Albert “Kell” Kelly, resigned unexpectedly in early May, leaving questions regarding who will run the approximately $1 billion program. Further, Administrator Pruitt himself is facing numerous investigations into his own actions and ethical violations; causing many to wonder just how much longer he will be in his current job and whether he will see any of these policy changes implemented.

It is easy to see, therefore, why every decision from the Administrator’s Office comes under significant scrutiny. Many opponents believe these moves are simply ways to reduce costs and time in the cleanup process, and they question whether “expedited” cleanups actually mean less rigorous cleanups. In his first year or so, there are examples where Administrator Pruitt has approved strengthened measures and cleanup requirements at some sites, despite pushback from industry and companies involved in the cleanup, but there are also examples of site decisions that cast doubt on his ability to be independent and impartial. In any case, as long as Administrator Pruitt is in his current role, it is clear that the Superfund program will see continued change and that he will use the authority of that role to expedite cleanups.

Opinions and conclusions in this post are solely those of the author unless otherwise indicated. The information contained in this blog is general in nature and is not offered and cannot be considered as legal advice for any particular situation. The author has provided the links referenced above for information purposes only and by doing so, does not adopt or incorporate the contents. Any federal tax advice provided in this communication is not intended or written by the author to be used, and cannot be used by the recipient, for the purpose of avoiding penalties which may be imposed on the recipient by the IRS. Please contact the author if you would like to receive written advice in a format which complies with IRS rules and may be relied upon to avoid penalties.

This story is was first published on the Miles Stockbridge website.

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About the authors

member of Miles & Stockbridge Products Liability & Mass Torts Practice Group, Van P. Hilderbrand, Jr. focuses his practice on environmental litigation, regulatory compliance issues, and advising on the environmental aspects of business and real estate transactions. His work also includes consulting on renewable energy project development and project finance transactions, conducting due diligence and assisting with permitting issues. He represents clients in a wide range of industries, including energy, manufacturing, consumer products, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, transportation, technology and real estate.

Marian Hwang has been an environmental attorney with the Miles & Stockbridge since 1987 and chairs its Environmental Practice. The breadth of her experiences representing multinational and national clients enables her to develop practical solutions to complex issues, whether involving complicated real estate/corporate acquisitions or divestitures or commercial financing matters to complex multi-defendant toxic tort claims, litigation, and multi-facility compliance matters. Marian works extensively with and appears before Federal and State regulators, and courts, has been certified as a LEED Green Associate by the U.S. Green Building Council, and has served as outside national environmental counsel to the firm’s major clients.

 

Controlling cleanup costs for contaminated land

by Dr. Harm Gross, Western Investor

As reported by Dr. Harm Gross in the Western Investor, in British Columbia, the cost of contaminated site cleanup has grown steadily since the Contaminated Site Regulation became law on April 1, 1997. There are several reasons for this change, some of which are under the control of “persons responsible”, chiefly landowners.

An uncontrollable cost factor is the proliferation of regulations, which ballooned to an estimated 10,000 double-sided pages in British Columbia. On November 1, 2017, Stage 10 omnibus amendments to the CSR came into effect, changing concentrations deemed harmful for a broad range of contaminants and adding a significant number of new ones. This meant that work before that date would become non-compliant overnight, causing environmental consulting companies to rush over 100 submissions for a Certificate of Compliance before this deadline to grandfather their work and avoid additional costs for their clients.

Regulations pertaining to contaminated sites are not just evolving in British Columbia, but have seen substantial updates across Canada in recent years.

Saskatchewan’s updated Environmental Management and Protection Act came into effect in June 2015. This legislation thoroughly overhauled the old Act by introducing a new impacted sites registry and by providing the regulator with more power to order persons responsible to conduct site assessments.

New guidelines were also introduced in Alberta, where the regulator released a new Environmental Site Assessment Standard in March 2016.

Manitoba enacted amendments to the Province’s Contaminated Sites Remediation Regulation in April 2014. While the intended aim of these new regulations and guidelines is to move the focus towards results-based frameworks, any change and expansion of rules inevitably leads to uncertainty for stakeholders. Uncertainty particularly stems from the need of establishing precedent with the regulator when the new rules are applied in the real world. It is up to the consultant to successfully navigate their clients through the new reality and reduce uncertainty. The consultant’s knowledge of the regulations, and proficiency in correctly interpreting and applying new rules, can have significant impacts on the accuracy of cost estimates and actual costs for site assessments and remedial work.

Former bulk fuel storage leak, North Vancouver, BC

With regulations in flux and frequent changes in rules, the potential for lowering and accurately predicting costs for site remediation projects is thus of great interest to responsible persons. The potential savings by inviting an experienced review of proposed remediation plans can be significant. At one site the savings for a client was $15 million; more commonly, savings are in the 6-figure or low 7-figure range. Incorrect investigative work is the most frequent source of error. This ranges from faulty field techniques when sampling groundwater wells, through unfamiliarity with laboratory methods for distinguishing man-made from naturally occurring substances, to inadequate comprehension of the myriad environmental regulations. Investigating contaminants requires great care when the difference between contamination and no contamination is measured at the extremely low concentrations of parts per million in soil, or the even lower concentrations of parts per billion in water. We have seen numerous examples where mistakes have tarred a site.

The public sector is no less prone to erroneous estimations of remediation cost. In April 2014, the parliamentary budget officer reported that the federal government has underestimated the cost of cleaning up contaminated sites under its jurisdiction by at least $2 billion, putting the total liability for contaminated sites to almost $7 billion. This was due to the fact that many sites in the inventory had yet to be assessed. While it seems relatively self-evident that proper site investigations are a prerequisite and absolute must for cost estimates to be accurate, such oversights are unfortunately abundant in the private sector. All too often consultants provide flimsy cost estimates based on incomplete or deficient investigative data.

Businesspeople frequently complain about the irritation of unreliable cost estimates, and rightfully so – nowhere is this more prevalent than in the environmental consulting industry.

Technical experts are often loathe to accept responsibility for cost estimates for fear of finding undiscovered contamination, running into regulatory snafus or overlooking issues which later prove substantial.

Next Environmental has taken the unprecedented step of providing fixed price quotes for a comprehensive scope of work at each step of investigation or remediation, thus entirely eliminating the cost uncertainties for clients. This service, unique in the contaminated sites business, is possible due to the skillful application of regulatory proficiency to address the business needs of clients. Time will tell whether this cost control measure spreads to other firms.

This article was originally published in Western Investor.

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About the Author

Dr. Harm Gross is the owner and President NEXT Environmental Inc.  He is currently a Registered Professional Biologist (R.P.Bio) and an Approved Professional of the Contaminated Sites Approved Professionals Society (CSAP Society), and has a wealth of experience obtaining Ministry Instruments and other environmental certifications for NEXT’s Clients. NEXT provides environmental consulting services including investigation, remediation and risk assessment of contaminated property for clients throughout BC and Alberta.

 

U.S. Ninth Circuit Rules Military Contractor Liable on CERCLA Clean-up Costs

Written by: By Whitney Jones Roy and Whitney HodgesSheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP

TDY Holdings, LLC brought suit for contribution under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) against the U.S. government relating to environmental contamination at TDY’s manufacturing plant. The district court granted judgment in favor of the government after a 12-day bench trial and allocated 100 percent of past and future CERCLA costs to TDY. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court sharply deviated from the two most “on point” decisions regarding allocation of cleanup costs between military contractors and the U.S. government when it determined the cases were not comparable, clarified the applicability of those cases, and remanded the case to reconsider the appropriate allocation of cleanup costs between TDY and the U.S. government.

TDY (formerly known as Ryan Aeronautical Company) owned and operated a manufacturing plant near the San Diego airport

From 1939 through 1999, TDY (formerly known as Ryan Aeronautical Company) owned and operated a manufacturing plant near the San Diego airport. TDY’s primary customer was the U.S. government—99 percent of TDY’s work at the plant between 1942 and 1945, and 90 percent of the work thereafter was done pursuant to contracts with the U.S. military. The United States also owned certain equipment at the site from 1939 to 1979. Id. at 1006. Chromium compounds, chlorinated solvents, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were released at the site as a result of their use during manufacturing operations. Id. In some cases, the government’s contracts required the use of chromium compounds and chlorinated solvents. Id. After passage of the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws classifying these chemicals as hazardous substances in the 1970s, TDY began environmental remediation and compliance at the site and billed the government for the “indirect costs” of that work, which the government paid. Id. at 1006–07. TDY incurred over $11 million in response costs at the site. Id. at 1007. Until the plant’s closure in 1999, the government reimbursed 90 to 100 percent of TDY’s cleanup costs at the site. Id. at 1007, 1010.

In 2004, the San Diego Unified Port District brought CERCLA claims against TDY. TDY and the Port District entered into a settlement agreement in March 2007 in which TDY agreed to cleanup releases at the site. TDY then brought suit for contribution under 42 U.S.C. § 9613(f)(1) and declaratory relief against the United States. Id. at 1007. The district court granted TDY’s motion for partial summary judgment declaring that the United States was liable as a past owner of the site under CERCLA. Id. After a 12-day bench trial on equitable allocation of costs, the district court held that the contamination caused by the hazardous substances at issue was attributable to TDY’s storage, maintenance, and repair practices, as well as spills and drips that occurred in the manufacturing process, rather than to the government’s directives to use the chemicals. Id. Accordingly, the district court allocated 100 percent of the past and future response costs for remediation of the three hazardous substances to TDY. Id. at 1008.

On appeal, TDY argued that the district court erred (1) when it allocated liability according to “fault”; (2) that the government’s role as owner rather than operator should not have been a dispositive factor in the court’s allocation, and (3) that the government should bear a greater share of response costs because it specifically required use of the chemicals at the site. Id. The court of appeals summarily rejected TDY’s first two arguments, but found that the district court did err in its analysis and application of binding authority on point: United States v. Shell Oil Co., 294 F.3d 1045 (9th Cir. 2002) and Cadillac Fairview/California, Inc. v. Dow Chem. Co., 299 F.3d 1019 (9th Cir. 2002). Id. at 1008–09. Shell Oil and Dow Chemical each produced products to support the U.S. military during World War II and incurred liability for contamination caused by hazardous chemicals that the government required to be used. In both cases, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district courts’ allocation of 100 percent of cleanup costs to the government because “the contractors’ costs were ‘properly seen as part of the war effort for which the American public as a whole should pay.’” Id. at 1009.

The Ninth Circuit disagreed with the district court’s conclusion that Shell Oil and Cadillac Fairview were not comparable, but agreed that some deviation from their allocations were appropriate. Id. The Ninth Circuit agreed that the government exercised less control over TDY than it did over Shell Oil Co. or Dow Chemical. In support of this determination, the court noted that the government was an operator, rather than an owner, of TDY’s site, that the government-owned equipment was removed from the site 20 years before TDY ceased operations, and that TDY’s own practices at the site caused the contamination. Id. at 1010. Furthermore, the district court properly determined that “industrial operations undertaken for the purpose of national defense, standing alone, did not justify allocating all costs to the government.” Id.

However, the Ninth Circuit held that, in allocating 100 percent of cleanup costs to TDY, the district court failed to consider that the government required TDY to use two of the three chemicals at issue beginning in the 1940s, when the need to take precautions against environmental contamination from these substances was not known. Id. Furthermore, the Ninth Circuit determined that “[t]he court’s acknowledgement of the evolving understanding of environmental contamination caused by these chemicals, and TDY’s prompt adoption of practices to reduce the release of hazardous chemicals into the environment once the hazards became known, further undercuts the decision to allocate 100 percent of the costs to TDY.” Id. The district court also failed to consider the parties’ lengthy course of dealing through 1999, when the government paid between 90 and 100 percent of cleanup costs at the plant. Id. Although “a customer’s willingness to pay disposal costs . . . cannot be equated with a willingness to foot the bill for a company’s unlawful discharge of oil or other pollutants,” the Ninth Circuit nevertheless determined it should have been a relevant factor in the allocation analysis. Id.

This article was originally published on the Sheppard Mullin Real Estate, Land Use & Environment Law Blog

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About the Authors

Whitney Jones Roy is a litigation partner in firm’s Los Angeles office. Ms. Roy was recognized by Law360 as a “Female Powerbroker” and by the Daily Journal as one of the Top 100 Women Lawyers in California in 2014.  Ms. Roy has experience in all aspects of California and federal civil procedure through trial. She also defends her clients on appeal when necessary.  Ms. Roy also specializes in complex environmental litigation and related products liability litigation. Her expertise includes the Clean Air Act, CERCLA, RCRA, design defect, failure to warn, negligence, nuisance, and trespass.

Whitney Hodges is an associate in the Real Estate, Land Use and Natural Resources Practice Group in the firm’s San Diego office. She also serves on the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Pro Bono Committee, Recruiting Committee, Energy, Infrastructure and Project Finance Team and Latin Business Team.  Ms. Hodges specializes in the representation of clients involved in real estate development. Her practice focuses on advising and representing major residential, industrial, commercial and mixed-use development projects, as well as Native American Indian tribes and renewable energy developers through all phases of the land use regulatory process and environmental compliance.

 

 

U.S. Eleventh Circuit Highlights Importance of Safety Training in Affirming Willful Violation of OSHA Standard

Author: H. Bernard Tisdale, Ogletree Deakins, Charlotte, North Carolina)

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently had the opportunity to remind employers not to ignore training employees on safety.  Martin Mechanical Contractors, Inc. v. Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor, No. 17-12643 (March 27, 2018).

In late 2015, a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor was installing an HVAC system on the flat roof of a warehouse in Georgia. The installation was to take place adjacent to several unguarded skylights covered only with plastic sheeting. While the onsite foreman had fall protection equipment in his truck, the employees did not wear any fall protection equipment while on the roof. These circumstances ended in tragically: one of the workers fell through a skylight and died as a result of his injuries.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the employer for a willful violation of 29 C.F.R. § 1926.501(b)(4)(i) for failing to protect its employees from falls. The administrative law judge concluded the supervisor’s actions supported a willful classification in that he demonstrated a “reckless disregard for the safety of his crew.” The employer appealed.

To support a willful classification, OSHA must show either (1) the employer knew of the standard and consciously disregarded it or (2) it exhibited such reckless disregard for the employees’ safety that the employer would not have cared that the conduct violated the standard.  Evidently, the supervisor claimed ignorance of the law, and the court analyzed whether the willful classification could be supported under the second standard.

Air conditioner units (HVAC) on a roof of industrial building

The court of appeals was unimpressed by the employer’s arguments. The court noted the supervisor was well aware of the danger posed by the unguarded skylights in that he warned his employees to be careful around them. The supervisor also testified it was his practice not to use fall protection equipment on flat roofs. The supervisor neither instructed anyone to wear fall protection equipment nor provided his employees with the fall protection equipment he had in his truck. Thus, the Court concluded, while the supervisor did not know of the standard’s requirements, he exhibited such reckless disregard for employee safety that he would not have cared that the conduct violated the standard.

This is where all employers may want to take heed. The court went on to observe that the supervisor’s “unfamiliarity serves, if anything, only to underscore the inadequacy of [the employer’s] training program. To hold that such inadequacy—and the resulting unfamiliarity—precludes classification of a violation as willful would perversely allow [the employer] to use its ineffective training as a defense against OSHA’s most serious charge.” The court upheld the willful classification.

Needless to say, a willful citation can have far-reaching ramifications for an employer—from tort liability and criminal penalties for the injury or death to inability to secure future work. While training may seem trivial and time consuming, doing it just might prevent a willful citation and possibly save a life.

This article was originally published on the Ogletree Deakins website.

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About the Author

Mr. Tisdale has wide experience in general civil and employment litigation. This experience ranges from advising clients on preventive measures to avoid formal charges and lawsuits, and representing clients before the United States Court of Appeals, to handling individual employment discrimination cases before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the federal courts as well as handling wrongful discharge and other employment-related litigation in state and federal courts. He regularly represents employers on safety and health matters including advising and defending clients on OSHA compliance issues involving Federal OSHA and state plan states.  He regularly assists clients with contract disputes and non-compete and trade secrets advice and litigation. His experience also includes counseling clients on wage and hour compliance under the Fair Labor Standards Act and performing compliance audits under the FLSA, drafting and reviewing employment contracts and employment