Record Year for Environmental Enforcement in the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division recently released its environmental enforcement report for 2016.  The report shows includes the highest recoveries in environmental enforcement and the highest criminal penalties handed down in an individual vessel pollution case.

The year was highlighted by the completion of a settlement with BP arising out of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico with the final entry in April 2016 of the consent decree in the Department’s settlement.  This saw the United States and the five Gulf Coast states secure payments in excess of $20 billion to resolve their claims against BP.

This settlement is the largest in the history of federal law enforcement for a single defendant, and it includes the largest-ever Clean Water Act civil penalty and the largest-ever recovery of damages for injuries to natural resources.

In addition to the BP litigation, the division continued its program of prosecuting shipping companies and crew for the intentional discharges of pollutants from ocean-going vessels in U.S. waters.  t the end of fiscal year 2016, criminal penalties imposed in these cases totaled more than $363 million in fines and more than 32 years of confinement.

In December 2016, the division obtained the largest-ever criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution when it concluded the prosecution of Princess Cruise Lines.  The company pleaded guilty to seven felony charges and will pay a $40 million penalty.

 

 

U.S. Government Environmental Liabilities in excess of $447 Billion

As reported in the District Sentinel, the chief United States federal watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), recently warned that the United States government’s environmental liabilities have grown by hundreds of billions of dollars over the past two decades.

In a biannual report about “high risk” problems facing federal agencies, the GAO said that taxpayers were on the hook last year for $447 billion in environmental cleanup costs—up from $217 billion in 1997.

The doubling roughly mirrors the rate of economic growth over the same time frame, but GAO warned that federal environmental liabilities might be much larger than reported.

Their estimate “does not reflect all of the future cleanup responsibilities federal agencies may face,” the report stated.

The U.S. Department of Energy liabilities alone ($372 billion) accounted for 80 percent of the total, and the obligations are “mostly related to nuclear waste cleanup.”  Half of the department’s environmental liabilities themselves come from just two nuclear cleanup sites—one in Washington State and another in South Carolina.

GAO auditors noted they believe that the Department of Agriculture doesn’t have proper “inventory of contaminated and potentially contaminated sites.”

“[I]n particular, [information on] abandoned mines, primarily on Forest Service land — is insufficient for effectively managing U.S. Department of Agriculture’s overall cleanup program,” the GAO paper stated.

The GAO report also stated that the Pentagon is inaccurately “estimating and reporting environmental liabilities,” and that GAO has been asking them to rectify the problem since 2006. “This recommendation has not been implemented,” the report stated.

The federal government is responsible for cleanup in places “where federal activities have contaminated the environment,” as GAO noted.

“Various federal laws, agreements with states, and court decisions require the federal government to clean up environmental hazards at federal sites and facilities — such as nuclear weapons production facilities and military installations,” the report said.  “Such sites are contaminated by many types of waste.”

Shore and Underwater Contaminated Sites Workshop – June 6th to 7th

The Real Property Institute of Canada (RPIC) is hosting a workshop on June 6th and 7th in Richmond, British Columbia dealing with contaminated sites.  The workshop will provide a forum for the contaminated sites community to learn about technical, scientific and organizational innovations, and best practices for the management of shore and underwater contaminated sites.  It will offer a unique opportunity for the public, private, and academic sectors to meet and exchange new ideas and information with colleagues and industry representatives from across the country and abroad.

For more information and to register, visit the RPIC website.

Risk Solutions for Contaminated Sites Exposition – May 31st

GeoEnviro Training Professionals Inc. is hosting an exposition on risk-based solutions for contaminated sites.   The event is designed for site owners, project managers, regulators, and service providers.  It will take place in Vancouver, British Columbia on May 31st 2017.

For more information on the event and to register, visit the GeoEnviro website.

Montreal’s Electric Train Project could derail Contaminated Site Clean-up

As reported in the Montreal Gazette, the planned $5.9 billion (Cdn.) electric train project could interfere with proposed clean-up of a contaminated site along the St. Lawrence River.  Daniel Green, an environmental activist who is also running for the Green Party in the federal by-election in the St. Laurent riding, contends that the Pointe-St-Charles area of the City is one of the most contaminated sites in the Province of Quebec.  A tunnel is proposed through the Pointe-St-Charles neighbourhood as part of the electric train project.

Historically, the edge of the Pointe-St-Charles was a wetland, home to thousands of geese.  But between 1866 and 1966, household and industrial waste began to be dumped into the swamp. Between the 1930s and ’50s, dikes were built and the dump expanded right into the river, filling in part of the passage between Pointe-Saint-Charles and Nun’s Island.

2008 report by the Commission on Environmental Cooperation estimated the Pointe-Saint-Charles neighbourhood, also referred to as the Technoparc sector, contains 4 to 8 million litres of diesel fuel mixed with other substances, “enough to fill about three Olympic-size swimming pools.” It also contains an estimated 1-2 tons of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).  Diesel fuel, which acts as a solvent, has accelerated the release of PCBs into the environment, the report said.

Mr. Green claims that digging a tunnel through the contaminated land in the Technoparc sector will disturb toxic chemicals in the sediment at the site that will then flow into the St. Lawrence River.

“It’s one of the worst hazardous waste sites in Quebec,” said Green, co-president of the Société pour vaincre la pollution (SVP), an Quebec-based environmental group.  Digging a tunnel in such a toxic environment is a risky and costly enterprise that could endanger current efforts to contain and clean up the contamination, he said.  “By just building the tunnel, it will change the approach of containment,” he added.

The proposed tunnel for the e-train is five kilometres long and will run from the southern tip of Pointe-St-Charles to south of Central Station in Griffintown in Montreal.  About 500 metres will run through the contaminated site, Green said.

A spokesperson for the company responsible for the rail project, Jean-François Lacroix from CPDQ Infra, refutes Mr. Green’s concern.  “We’ve been working hand-in-hand with the city for more than a year.  We are co-ordinating the two projects,” Mr. Lacroix stated.  The company will ensure measures to mitigate risk and respect environmental norms will be taken to prevent contamination of the St. Lawrence River said Mr. Lacroix.

In the summer of 2016, a plan to address contamination at the Point-Saint-Charles neighbourhood was announced by the federal, provincial and municipal governments.  The plan called for the construction of a retaining wall to intercept contaminated groundwater and a system for treatment. It was estimated the system would need to be in place for the 25 years and cost more than $100 million.

In an interview with CBC, Alfred Jaouich, a professor in the department of earth and atmospheric sciences at L’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), says he is in favour of the train, but that everyone involved will have to be very careful.  He says the rock underneath is not stable and could crack, meaning contamination could easily spread.

The City of Montreal has been working on cleaning up the site for 25 years.  City officials hold that view that any company hoping to work there will have to respect the provincial laws in place, and that includes CDPQ Infra.

Green said fuels and heavy metals on the site, long the location of one of Canada’s largest rail yards, have been leaking into the river for decades. In the 1960s, industries dumped toxic landfill on former marshland there, which was used as the main parking lot for Expo 67.

A 2008 report by the Commission on Environmental Cooperation estimated the Technoparc contains 4 to 8 million litres of diesel fuel mixed with other substances, “enough to fill about three Olympic-size swimming pools.” It also contains an estimated 1-2 tons of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Diesel fuel, which acts as a solvent, has accelerated the release of PCBs into the environment, the report said.

Groundwater Sustainability Assessment Approach: Guidance for Application

The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) recently issued a document entitled Groundwater Sustainability Assessment Approach: Guidance for Application.  The document is intended to assist users to successfully apply the Groundwater Sustainability Assessment Approach (GSAA) developed by the CCME.  The document provides a balance of high-level guidance and practical how-to advice, highlighting issues and actions jurisdictions should take into account in implementation of the approach.  The guidance is comprehensive in scope with specific explanations on the GSAA, definitions and principles.

The GSAA was developed and tested by the CCME as an approach for assessing the sustainability of groundwater resources at a local, regional or Canada-wide scale.  The resulting GSAA is a high-level framework that can be interpreted for application across various scales, locations and circumstances.

The guidance document was produced by the CCME to support the use of the GSAA and is meant to assist users to successfully apply the GSAA. It provides a balance of high level guidance and practical how-to advice while highlighting issues and actions jurisdictions should take into account as they work through the GSAA.

The document itself is modular. It can be applied linearly, from beginning to end, but also allows users to focus on the specific guidance most appropriate to them.  It is comprehensive in scope with specific explanations provided on the GSAA approach, definitions, and principles for reference.  Useful background links to past research or reports are also included for easy reference. To help gather and contextualize best practices, interviews were conducted with the leads of all pilot projects.

Geospatial Analysis for Optimization at Environmental Sites

The U.S. Interstate Technology Regulatory Council (U.S. ITRC) recently released a document entitled Geospatial Analysis for Optimization at Environmental Sites guidance (GRO-1) to help practitioners better apply geospatial analyses in environmental projects.

Geospatial analysis supports optimization activities throughout all stages of an environmental site by:

  • improving performance of characterization and remediation activities;
  • increasing monitoring efficiency; and
  • justifying decisions at environmental sites.

The Guidance document illustrates the practical application of geospatial analyses to support optimization activities, and serves as a companion to Groundwater Statistics for Monitoring and Compliance: Statistical Tools for the Project Life Cycle (GSMC-1).

The guidance document will help state regulators and other practitioners to understand, evaluate, and make informed decisions about geospatial analyses for optimizing activities at environmental sites.

For users assessing the documentation for the first time, they are directed to review the Overview of this guidance.  All users may find the Navigating this Website page helpful.

Contaminated mine “an embarrassment to Canada”

As reported by the CBC, a Yukon judge recently gave a scathing assessment of the clean-up efforts at the Mount Nansen mine.   Formerly owned by BYG Natural Resources Inc., the Mount Nansen mine is an abandoned former gold and silver mine located in the heart of the Yukon Territory in northwestern Canada.  It is currently under government care.

Yukon Supreme court justice Ron Veale approved a clean-up plan for the abandoned Mount Nansen mine in the spring of 2016.  However, he issued his written decision only recently.

In the decision, the judge heavily criticizes the former owner of the mine, BYG Resources, for an “unscrupulous history of … operational mismanagement” that left a big, toxic mess is to be clean-up using Canadian taxpayers’ money.

“This case stands as a painful reminder of the lasting and egregious damage that unscrupulous and unchecked profiteering can bring about in the mining sector.  It is an embarrassment to Canada, Yukon and the responsible mining community,” Veale’s decision reads.  “It is my opinion that an account of BYG’s historical activity in the Yukon should be brought to the attention of the federal and territorial taxpayers, who remain fiscally responsible for remediation efforts.”

History of the Mine

BYG began mining gold and silver at the Mount Nansen site in 1996.  By 1999, the company ceased operations as it was unable to meet the requirements of its water licence.

Immediately after shutdown, BYG appointed a receiver to the site.  In July 1999, the receiver abandoned the property.  The Government of Canada took control of the site and began implementing care and maintenance operations.

In 2003, under an agreement between the Yukon and Canadian governments, the Yukon government became responsible for the property along with the development and implementation of a remediation plan.  The financial responsibility for the site resides with the Government of Canada.

In a 2007 decision by the Yukon Supreme Court ruled on environmental charges, the court found the company guilty of “raping and pillaging” the Yukon’s resources.

A 2011 environmental assessment at Mount Nansen estimated about 55,000 cubic metres of contaminated soil, 300,000 cubic metres of tailings and 500,000 cubic metres of waste rock at the site.

To date, it is estimated that approximately $25 million has been spent by the government to monitor and control the site.

Business Opportunity

The mine currently for sale to whomever is willing to take on a “government subsidized remediation project,” according to Veale.

In late 2016, pwc, the court-appointed receiver for the mine, announced a shortlist of proponents who successfully responded to a Request for Qualifications on the purchase of assets and remediation work.  The successful respondents are as follows:

  • 536086 Yukon Inc. (lead respondent Merit Consultants International)
  • Alexco Environmental Group Inc. (lead respondent)
  • Morgan Construction & Environmental Ltd. (lead respondent)

It is expected the pwc will issue a Request for Proposals shortly.  The costs to implement the remediation plan would be paid by the Government of Canada.

Under the conditions of sale, the purchaser will be required to prepare a detailed design for the remediation plan, subject to peer review, and approval under the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act.

Required remediation tasks include de-watering the existing pit in preparation to accept the waste rock, tailings, and contaminated soil, then sealing the pit with a permanent liner.  The plan calls for a clean up “as close to walk away as possible,” with nothing left on site that is not required for long term monitoring and maintenance.

The winning proponent will have up to 10 years to complete the tasks required, and could then acquire permits to mine any viable mineral deposits on the property.

$130,000 in Penalties for Improper Storage of Petroleum Products

The Clearwater River Dene Nation, the Clearwater Store, and band administrator, Walter Hainault, were recently sentenced in the Provincial Court of Saskatchewan after pleading guilty to failing to comply with an environmental protection compliance order (EPCO) issued by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC).  The Clearwater River Dene Nation was fined $100,000; Clearwater Store was fined $25,000; Walter Hainault was fined $5,000.

The EPCO was issued following an inspection at the store to verify compliance with the Storage Tank Systems for Petroleum Products and Allied Petroleum Products Regulations.  Charges were laid under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 after the EPCO failed to bring about full compliance with the Regulations.

EPCOs are issued under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 by ECCC enforcement officers to direct that various measures be taken to stop or to prevent the commission of an alleged contravention of the Act or its regulations.

The purpose of the Storage Tank Systems for Petroleum Products and Allied Petroleum Products Regulations (SOR, 2008-197) is to reduce the risk of contaminating soil and groundwater due to spills and leaks of petroleum products and allied petroleum products from storage tank systems.  The regulations establish technical standards for the design and installation of storage tank systems, and include requirements for operation, maintenance, removal, reporting and record-keeping.

The fines collected will be directed to the Environmental Damages Fund. The Environmental Damages Fund (EDF) follows the Polluter Pays Principle to help ensure that those who cause environmental damage or harm to wildlife take responsibility for their actions.  The EDF is a specified purpose account, administered by ECCC, to provide a mechanism for directing funds received as a result of fines, court orders, and voluntary payments to priority projects that will benefit our natural environment.

Cloud Delivery of Product Safety, Dangerous Goods, and Scientific Content

3E Company, a provider of environmental health and safety (EH&S) compliance and information management services, recently announced that its product safety, dangerous goods, and scientific content can now be accessed via the cloud for seamless integration with the SAP® Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) system.  3E’s Ariel® Content for the Cloud is a secure solution for optimized data delivery and maintenance that provides SAP users with improved access to the regulatory and scientific content needed to enhance product and facility compliance.  

Cloud delivery of 3E’s continually updated and value-added global regulatory research can reduce the cost and complexity of information technology (IT) setup and maintenance, accelerate content updates, streamline compliance processes, facilitate informed decision making, and mitigate the risk of noncompliance.  

Ariel Content for the Cloud enables Internet-based delivery of 3E’s global product safety, dangerous goods, and scientific content.  Together with 3E’s supplier data and hazard communication rules, phrases, and templates, Ariel Content for the Cloud offers a comprehensive compliance solution, allowing users to more easily manage inbound and outbound data and documents.

Compared with earlier generation content management approaches, Ariel Content for the Cloud offers a simpler, more efficient way to load and update 3E’s data into SAP EHS.  3E developed the solution to eliminate time consuming and resource intensive manual data maintenance processes, reduce technical infrastructure requirements, simplify deployment, and make software and content updates immediately available for customers.  By eliminating the need to host the server and database behind their firewall alongside their SAP EHS application, the flexible architecture and lighter technical footprint help lower the total cost of ownership for clients, particularly for smaller companies or those maintaining multiple SAP environments.

3E Company, a Verisk Analytics (Nasdaq:VRSK) business, offers a comprehensive suite of data and solutions for environmental health and safety (EH&S) compliance management.  3E was founded in 1988 and is headquartered in Carlsbad, California.