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Proposed U.S. Infrastructure Plan Supports Reuse of Brownfields and Superfund Sites

The Trump Administration released its ambitious $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan on Feb. 12, 2018 – a plan that includes many provisions focused upon encouraging the reuse of contaminated brownfields and Superfund sites.  On the same day, the Administration released its proposed budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, which called for a 23 percent cut from FY 2018 levels in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (U.S. EPA) budget.  The U.S. EPA also released its final Strategic Plan for 2018-2022, emphasizing a focus upon the agency’s core mission, cooperative federalism and the rule of law.  What does all of this mean for the redevelopment of contaminated sites in the United States?

Infrastructure Plan

 Financial Incentives

The infrastructure program would establish an Incentives Program that could be very beneficial for state and local reuse of contaminated sites.  Up to $100 billion would be set aside for the Incentives Program, which would fund a wide range of projects, including brownfields and Superfund sites, stormwater facilities, wastewater facilities, flood control, water supply, drinking water supply and transportation facilities.  The funds would be divided among the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. EPA.  The infrastructure plan suggests criteria by which applications would be evaluated, with substantial weight (70 percent) being given to obtaining commitments for non-federal revenue for sustainable, long-term funding for infrastructure investments and for operations, maintenance and rehabilitation. In order to motivate performance, the grant recipient would need to enter into an infrastructures incentives agreement with the lead federal agency and to agree to achieve progress milestones. If the milestones are incomplete after two years, the agreement will be voided unless there is good cause to extend the agreement for another year. No individual state could receive more than 10 percent of the total amount available under the Incentives Program.

Additional funds would be set aside for a Rural Infrastructure Program, including funds for brownfields and land revitalization as well as stormwater and wastewater facilities, drinking water, flood risk management and water supply.  States would be required to develop a comprehensive rural infrastructure investment plan (RIIP). Some funds would also be provided for tribal infrastructure and the infrastructure needs of U.S. territories.

Superfund, Brownfield, and RCRA Sites in the U.S. (U.S. EPA, 2013)

Yet another category of funds would be set aside for the Transformative Projects Program – projects that are likely to be commercially viable but have unique technical and risk characteristics that might deter private sector investment.  Projects that could be covered by this program could fall within commercial space, transportation, clean water, drinking water, energy or broadband.  A total of $20 billion would initially be set aside for this program, with the U.S. Department of Commerce chairing the program.  Funds could be used for demonstration, project planning, capital construction, or all three.  If a project receives financial assistance for capital construction, it would be expected to enter into a value share agreement with the federal government and would be required to publish performance information upon achieving milestones and finishing the project.

The federal government would also dedicate $20 billion from existing federal credit programs, and broaden the use of Private Activity Bonds, to assist complex infrastructure projects. These sources of funding would include: the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA); Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF); Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA); Rural Utility Service (RUS) lending; and Private Activity Bonds (PABs).

The Administration would amend TIFIA to make loans and credit assistance available for other types of projects – such as passenger terminals, runways and related facilities at non-federal waterways and ports as well as airport projects – until FY 2028.  Similarly, the Administration is proposing to amend RRIF to cover the credit risk premium for short-line freight and passenger rail project sponsors, thereby incentivizing more project sponsors to apply for RRIF credit assistance.  It would also like to amend WIFIA (33 U.S.C. 3905) to include flood mitigation, navigation and water supply, and to eliminate the requirement that borrowers be community water supply systems.  The Administration would like to make WIFIA funds available for remediation of water quality contamination by non-liable parties.  It would remove the current spending limit of $3.2 billion, which was put in place when WIFIA was a pilot program, and would amend the restriction upon using WIFIA funds to reimburse costs incurred prior to loan closing.

Liability Relief

The Administration proposes establishing a Superfund Revolving Loan Fund and Grant Program and authorizing sites that are on the National Priorities List (NPL) to be eligible for brownfields grants.  It would amend the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act in order to do so. This would allow non-liable parties to tap into a low-interest source of funds to perform removals, remedial design, remedial action and long-term stewardship.  The program would be targeted toward portions of NPL sites that were not related to the response action; to portions that could be parceled out from the response action site; to areas where the response action was complete but the site had not yet been delisted; or to areas where the response action was complete but the facility was still subject to a consent order or decree.

The Administration would also propose additional liability protections to states and municipalities acquiring contaminated properties in their capacity as sovereign governments by clarifying and expanding the current liability protections in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) Section 101(20)(D).  These governmental entities would be eligible for grants and would be protected from liability, so long as they meet the obligations imposed upon bona fide prospective purchasers (BFPPs), including exercising appropriate care with regard to releases, so long as they did not contribute to the contamination.

The Administration would also give EPA express authority to enter into administrative settlement agreements with BFPPs or other third parties who wish to clean up and reuse contaminated Superfund sites.  This could include partial and early remedial actions.

The Administration’s infrastructure proposal would encourage greater flexibility in funding and execution requirements, as infrastructure needs should be integrated into cleanup design and implementation. Better integration would allow third-party financing and promote site reuse.

Expedited Permitting

The Administration proposed a “one agency, one decision” environmental review structure, in which a single federal lead agency would complete the environmental review within 21 months and issue either a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) or Record of Decision (ROD).  The lead agency would then have another three months to issue any necessary permits, including state permits issued under federal law pursuant to a delegation of authority.  The agency would not be required to evaluate alternatives outside the scope of the agency’s authority or the applicant’s capability.

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) would be directed to revise its regulations to streamline the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process to increase the efficiency, predictability and transparency of environmental reviews.  The Administration would eliminate what it considers to be duplicative reviews by EPA under Section 309 of the Clean Air Act.  It would also encourage each federal agency to increase its use of categorical exclusions (CEs) and would allow any federal agency to use a CE established by another federal agency without undergoing the CE substantiation and approval process.

The Administration would also recommend amending the law to allow federal agencies to accept funds from non-federal entities to support review of permit applications and other environmental documents to expedite project delivery and defray costs.

The Administration would also make changes under the Clean Water Act to eliminate redundancy and duplication. For example, it would allow federal agencies to select nationwide permits without the need for additional Army Corps review. It would authorize the Secretary of the Army to make jurisdictional determinations under the Clean Water Act and would eliminate EPA’s ability to veto a Section 404 permit under Section 404(c). It would allow the same document to be used for actions under Sections 404 and 408 of the Clean Water Act.  The Administration would lengthen the term of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit from five years to 15 years and provide for automatic renewals.

Similar changes would be made under the Clean Air Act. For example, the Administration would amend the Clean Air Act so that state departments of transportation (state DOTs) and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) would need only to demonstrate conformity to the latest National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), rather than to old and new standards for the same pollutant. Similarly, MPOs would be allowed to demonstrate conformity in a newly designated non-attainment area within one year after EPA has determined that the emissions budget is adequate for conformity purposes.

The Administration proposes eliminating overlapping Section 4(f) review by the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development before the DOT can be authorized to use parklands or historic sites unless there is no prudent or feasible alternative. This process can add an extra 60 days to the project development review process, even when those agencies have little direct involvement in the project. Another layer of review is required under Section 106 of the National Historic Protection Act (NHPA) for historic properties that is not aided by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The Administration recommends that an action taken under a Section 106 agreement should not be considered a “use” under Section 4(f), therefore eliminating some duplication and delay.

The Administration would expand the NEPA assignment program to allow DOT to assign, and states to assume, a broader range of NEPA responsibilities, including project-level transportation level conformity determinations as well as determinations regarding flood plain protections and noise policies to make the NEPA assignment program more efficient.

Also proposed by the Administration is a pilot program with up to 10 pilot sites that would be expected to meet performance standards and enhanced mitigation, in lieu of complying with NEPA and relevant permits or other authorizations.

The Administration also proposed judicial reforms, including limiting injunctive relief to exceptional circumstances and revising the statute of limitations to 150 days (rather than a statute of limitations of up to six years).

Proposed Budget

The Administration also released its “Efficient, Effective, Accountable: An American Budget” on Feb. 12, 2018, in which it proposed a 23 percent cut in EPA’s budget compared to FY 2018.  The White House added $724 million to EPA’s budget in a supplemental request, including $327 million for the Superfund program and $397 million for State and Tribal Assistance Grants for Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs).  At the same time, the Administration proposed cuts of 16 percent in grants to states (to $2.9 billion) and proposed cuts of 35 percent in funding to state and local agencies for air quality management (to $152 million).  The Administration requested $151 million for enforcement at Superfund sites and $20 million for the WIFIA program.

U.S. EPA’s Final Strategic Plan

The FY 2018-2022 EPA Strategic Plan, also released on Feb. 12, 2018, continued to emphasize three main goals: the agency’s Core Mission, Cooperative Federalism, and the Rule of Law and Process.  Among its two-year priority goals, The U.S. EPA intends to make an additional 102 Superfund sites and 1,368 brownfields sites ready for anticipated use (RAU) by Sept. 30, 2019. The U.S. EPA intends to use a “Lean” management system designed to deliver measurable results that align with the Strategic Plan.

Objective 1.3 is particularly relevant to the issues discussed above with regard to redevelopment of brownfields and Superfund sites. Objective 1.3 is to revitalize land and prevent contamination by providing better leadership and management to properly clean up contaminated sites to revitalize and return the land back to communities.  The strategic plan identifies both strategic measures and strategies for achieving these goals. First, it announces the number of sites the agency intends to have RAU by Sept. 30, 2022:

  • 255 additional Superfund sites
  • 3,420 additional brownfield sites
  • 536 additional Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) corrective action facilities
  • 56,000 additional leaking underground storage tank (LUST) sites meeting risk-based corrective action standards

The U.S. EPA then announced the strategies by which it intends to achieve these goals, including the use of new technologies and innovative approaches; prioritizing sites that have been on the NPL for five years or more without significant progress; and reprioritizing resources to focus on remedial actions, construction completions, ready for reuse determinations and NPL site deletions.  The U.S. EPA will award competitive grants for the assessment, cleanup and reuse of brownfields sites, and will focus on sites subject to RCRA corrective action and LUST sites.  The U.S. EPA will review more than 12,500 risk management plans (RMPs) to help prevent releases and train RMP inspectors, and it intends to update its RCRA hazardous waste regulations to protect the health of the 20 million people living within 1 mile of a hazardous waste management facility. It will also issue polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) cleanup, storage and disposal approvals, since this work cannot be delegated to states or tribes.  The U.S. EPA acknowledged that many of the sites that remain on the NPL are large, more complex and may contain multiple areas of contamination, and may contain emerging contaminants such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).  The U.S. EPA promised to engage stakeholders at all levels in making cleanup and land revitalization decisions.

As part of Objective 3.1, compliance with the law, the U.S. EPA stated that it would continue to follow an “enforcement first” approach under CERCLA to maximize the participation of responsible parties to perform and pay for cleanups. It indicated it would focus its resources on the highest priority sites that present an immediate risk to human health and the environment, and return these sites to beneficial use as expeditiously as possible.  It will also use advanced monitoring technologies to ensure compliance and work with the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) and state associations to modernize ways to improve compliance.

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About the Authors

Amy L. Edwards is the co-chair of the firm’s National Environmental Team, as well as its Military Housing and Installations Redevelopment Team. She is a partner in the firm’s Public Policy & Regulation Group, which has been ranked among the top law and lobbying firms in Washington, D.C., by numerous publications. Ms. Edwards has been recognized as a leading environmental lawyer for several years by Chambers USASuper Lawyers and Best Lawyers. After holding several other leadership positions, she will become the Chair of the American Bar Association’s Section of Environment, Energy and Resources (SEER), the pre-eminent national organization representing lawyers in these fields, in 2018-2019.

Nicholas Targ is a San Francisco attorney with more than 20 years of experience assisting clients in the public and private sectors efficiently achieve their land use, environmental and policy goals. He co-chairs Holland & Knight’s national environmental team. Mr. Targ’s practice focuses on complex redevelopment projects, environmental compliance and government advocacy. His representative work includes strategic legal advice on brownfields redevelopment, Superfund compliance, and state and federal grant and policy advocacy. Mr. Targ has successfully advocated for infill funding and policy initiatives on behalf of public, private and nonprofit coalition clients.

This article was first published on the Holland & Knight LLP website.

Recent Trends in the Selection of Remedies at Superfund Sites

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) recently issued the 15th edition of its Superfund Remedy Report (SRR).  The report is a compilation of over 300 remedies selected in decision documents for contaminated sites on the National Priorities List (NPL) from October 2011 to September 2014.

Summary

Remedies included in the document relate to soil, groundwater, and sediment.  The remedies were counted by specific technology or approach, and also grouped into categories, such as treatment, on-site containment, off-site disposal, monitored natural attenuation (MNA), and institutional controls (ICs). The study analyzed remedies by media (i.e., soil, sediment, and groundwater), and the types of contaminants of concern (COCs) in those media. The evaluation also included vapor intrusion mitigation remedies.

The SRR compiles data on remedies and presents separate analyses for contaminants overall and contaminants in select media (soil, sediment and groundwater). This edition also includes a separate analysis of remedy and response action data for large sediment sites.

Dredging PCB-Contaminated sediment on the Hudson River

For the majority (78 percent) of the 1,540 Superfund sites with decision documents available, treatment has been selected, often in combination with other remedies. Most of these sites have more than one contaminated media, most frequently groundwater and soil. Most sites also have different types of contaminants of concern (COCs): more than half of sites address volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs) and metals, while a quarter of sites address two of these groups.

For FYs 2012 to 2014, remedies were selected in 308 decision documents, including 242 RODs and ROD Amendments, and 66 ESDs with remedial components. Of the 308 decision documents, 188 (61 percent) include a remedy for source materials (such as soil and sediment) and 160 (52 percent) for groundwater. Remedies were also selected for soil gas and air related to vapor intrusion.

Source Remedies

For this three-year period, nearly half of decision documents with source remedies include treatment. A quarter of all source decision documents include in situ treatment. Soil vapor extraction, chemical treatment, and in situ thermal treatment are the most frequently selected in situ treatment technologies for sources with soil being the most common source medium addressed. Physical separation, recycling, and solidification/stabilization (S/S) are the most common ex situ treatment methods. Metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and halogenated VOCs are the COCs most commonly addressed.

Table 1: Summary of Source Control Remedies

Treatment
• Chemical, biological, or physical means to reduce toxicity, mobility, or volume of contaminated source media

• Can be either in situ or ex situ

• examples include chemical treatment and in situ thermal treatment

On-site containment
• Examples include the use of caps, liners, covers, and landfilling on site
Off-site disposal
• Includes excavation and disposal at an off-site facility
Monitored natural attenuation (MNA)
• Reliance on natural processes

• Natural attenuation processes may include physical, chemical, and biological processes

Monitored natural recovery (MNR)
• Reliance on natural processes to reduce risk from sediments

• Natural attenuation processes may include physical, chemical, and biological processes

Enhanced monitored natural recovery (EMNR)
• Combines natural recovery with an engineered approach for sediments

• Typically includes placing a thin layer of clean sediment to accelerate the recovery process

Institutional controls
• Nonengineered instruments, such as administrative and legal controls, that help minimize the potential for human exposure to contamination and protect the integrity of the remedy

• Examples for source media include land use restrictions and access agreements

Other
• Source control remedies that do not fall into the categories of source control treatment, on-site containment, off-site disposal, MNA, MNR, EMNR, or engineering controls

• Examples include wetlands replacement and shoreline stabilization

Sediment Remedies

Of the 188 recent source decision documents, 39 include a remedy for sediments. Most of the sediment decision documents (87 percent) include dredging, excavation, off-site disposal or on-site containment as part of the selected remedy. Some treatment was also selected — for example, in situ amended caps and ex situ and in situ S/S. Examples of other remedies include wetlands replacement and enhanced or monitored natural recovery (EMNR or MNR). Two-thirds of the sediment decision documents include institutional controls (ICs). Metals, PAHs and polychlorinated biphenyls are the COCs most frequently addressed.

EPA also analyzed newly acquired remedy and response action data on the largest sediment sites, known as Tier 1 sediment sites. The data include 112 actions for 66 sites. Some of these actions have progressed to design or implementation. Most remedies for these sites include dredging and excavation (84 percent), 48 percent include residual caps, and 29 percent include engineered caps designed to isolate contaminants from the waterway. A quarter of the Tier 1 sites include MNR and 18 percent include EMNR.

The U.S. EPA analyzed the contaminants of concern (COCs) addressed by sediment remedies in recent decision documents.  Over three-quarters of these documents include metals. PCBs and PAHs are the next most frequent categories of COCs with 44 percent each, as seen in the Figure below.

Figure 1: Detailed COCs in Decision Documents with Sediment Remedies

Groundwater Remedies

For the 160 groundwater decision documents signed in FYs 2012 to 2014, the groundwater remedies continue to be primarily a mix of in situ treatment, pump and treat (P&T), and monitored natural attenuation; most also include ICs. The use of in situ groundwater treatment continues to rise and is now selected in over half of groundwater decision documents. Of these, bioremediation and chemical treatment remain the most frequently selected. The majority of in situ bioremediation remedies specify anaerobic bioremediation, and more than half of chemical treatment remedies specify in situ chemical oxidation. The selection of P&T in groundwater decision documents has decreased significantly since the early 1990s and reached its lowest, 17 percent, in FY 2014. Containment technologies (vertical engineered barriers such as slurry walls) were selected at a few sites. By far, halogenated VOCs (primarily chlorinated VOCs) are the most common type of groundwater COC, addressed in 72 percent of recent groundwater decision documents.

Table 2. Summary of Groundwater and Vapor Intrusion Remedy Categories

Groundwater
In situ treatment
• Treatment of groundwater in place without extraction from an aquifer

• Examples include in situ chemical oxidation and in situ bioremediation

Pump and treat (P&T)
• Pumping of groundwater from a well or trench, followed by aboveground treatment

• Examples of aboveground treatment include air stripping and granular activated carbon

Monitored natural attenuation (MNA)
• Reliance on natural attenuation processes

• Natural attenuation processes may include physical, chemical, and biological processes

Containment
• Containment of groundwater using a vertical, engineered, subsurface, impermeable barrier
Institutional controls
• Examples include drilling restrictions and water supply use restrictions
Alternative water supply
• Examples include installing new water supply wells, providing bottled water or extending a municipal water supply
Other
• Groundwater remedies that do not fall into the categories of in situ treatment, P&T, MNA, containment, institutional controls, or alternative water supply

• Examples include drainage/erosion control and wetlands restoration

Vapor intrusion
Mitigation
• Mitigation of soil gas or indoor air to reduce exposure to vapor contamination in buildings

• Examples include active depressurization technologies and passive barriers

Institutional controls
• Examples include land use restrictions and vapor intrusion mitigation for new buildings

Vapor Intrusion Remedies

EPA selected vapor intrusion mitigation for existing structures in nine of the recent decision documents, and ICs for either existing structures or future construction in 34 of these documents. Some ICs restrict the future use of structures to avoid vapor intrusion exposure and others require the installation of mitigation systems as part of future construction. Active depressurization was the most common mitigation method specified, followed by passive barriers and subslab ventilation systems.

Combined and Optimized Remedies

In this report, the U.S. EPA also discusses the use of combined remedies and optimization reviews. The combined remedy highlights provide examples of recent decision documents where remedies are combined spatially or in sequence. The optimization highlights provide examples of how optimization efforts have informed remedy decisions in recent decision documents.

The remedy and site information provided in this report can help identify program needs for expanded technical information and support. For example, growing use of in situ groundwater technologies suggests the need for additional knowledge and support associated with those technologies. This analysis also provides information of value to stakeholders including technology developers; consulting and engineering firms; and federal, state, and tribal remediation professionals. In particular, developers and service providers can gain insight into the demand for specific remedial technologies.

 Conclusions

The analysis of most recent Superfund decision documents shows continued selection of a full range of treatment, containment, and disposal technologies and approaches for both source material and groundwater. Selection of some remedies is increasing in frequency (such as in situ groundwater technologies), while others are decreasing (such as pump-and-treat). Remedial approaches, including in situ bioremediation, are often combined in time or space to address different areas of the site or applied sequentially. Remedy optimization and reevaluation has resulted in changes to previously selected or implemented cleanup approaches. Overall, most Superfund sites contain different types of COCs: more than half of sites with remedies address VOCs, SVOCs, and metals/metalloids, and almost a quarter of sites address two of these groups.

 

 

Who is Charge of Harbour Clean-ups in Ontario?

As reported by the CBC, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) does not consider itself as the lead for the clean-up of Hamilton Harbour or Thunder Bay harbour.  ECCC says, while it is leading an ongoing harbour cleanup in Hamilton, it’s not a role the federal agency usually assumes.

That comes as proponents of cleaning up historical pollution in the harbour in Thunder Bay, Ont., try and sort out who is responsible for spearheading similar efforts in the northwestern Ontario city.

“If your question is, does it need a champion? It absolutely does,” Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said of the importance that an organization with jurisdiction over a polluted site push for a cleanup. “It needs one organization to keep pushing it along.”

“If it continues to be work that is just secondary work for someone off the corner of their desk, then it’s going to be a long, hard, arduous process.”

Efforts to clean up historical industrial pollution at the Randle Reef site in Hamilton’s harbour date back at least 15 years, said Eisenberger, who also used to be the chair of the board for the Hamilton Port Authority.  For years, he said, the port effectively served the lead agency role, coordinating local stakeholders and senior levels of government to move the project forward.

Environment Canada took the reins well into the project’s lifespan, according to Eisenberger and a spokesperson with the federal agency, and only after the involvement of the Hamilton port — who owns the harbour bed at Randle Reef.

In Thunder Bay, determining who should be that advocate has been difficult; the water lots where 400,000 cubic metres of mercury-contaminated pulp fibre sit in the harbour’s north end are owned by Transport Canada but administered by the Thunder Bay Port Authority.

Transport Canada has told CBC News spearheading a cleanup is up to the port, while port officials say they’ve been told by Transport Canada to advise on — not lead — remediation efforts.  The port has pointed to Environment Canada as the most appropriate lead agency, citing its role in Hamilton.

Approximate Area of Contaminated Sediment in Thunder Bay Harbour

‘No standard model’

Just because Environment Canada takes a leadership role in one project doesn’t necessarily mean it will in all cases, a spokesperson with the agency said.

“There really is no standard model for remediating contaminated sites other than that governments try to apply, where possible, the polluter-pay principle,” Jon Gee, Environment Canada’s manager of the Great Lakes area of concern wrote in an email to CBC News.

In Thunder Bay, the industrial companies largely responsible for the legacy pollution no longer exist.

Environment Canada’s lead role in Hamilton was the result of “a long negotiation between the Government of Canada and the other organizations,” Gee wrote. “It is not a role that the Department usually undertakes.”

The jurisdictional confusion in Thunder Bay has caught the attention of at least one legislator in the area.  Officials with the office of Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Patty Hajdu said she has met with members of the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan’s public advisory committee and that she will also discuss the matter with the federal ministers of transport and the environment.

Construction of the Randle Reef cleanup project in Hamilton Harbour

Gee said Environment Canada “remains committed” to working with government and other stakeholders on the project.

In Hamilton’s case, funding for the $139 million Randle Reef project is being split among the federal and provincial governments, as well as Hamilton, Burlington, the Hamilton Port Authority and Stelco, a steel company based in Hamilton. It’s expected to be complete in 2022.

In Thunder Bay, a number of remediation options were presented in 2014 to the public, with feedback going into a report.  Environment Canada has said no preferred option was identified because there is no lead agency on the project. Cost estimates at the time ranged anywhere from $30 million to $90 million.

Status of Hamilton Harbour Clean-up

As reported in the Hamilton Spectator, Hamilton Harbour still has an undetermined number of years to go before it can meet water quality and ecological standards acceptable to the International Joint Commission.  The Canada/U.S. bilateral agency that oversees cross-border water issues said in a statement this week that — after three decades — it is growing restless about the slow pace of Great Lakes water improvements on both sides of the border.

“The IJC identifies specific gaps in achieving the human health objectives … for drinkable, swimmable and fishable waters, and recommends that the governments set an accelerated and fixed period of time for effectively achieving zero discharge of inadequately treated or untreated sewage into the Great Lakes,” the agency says.

More than 30 years ago, the commission deemed 43 “areas of concern” on the Great Lakes — including Hamilton Harbour — and only seven sites have so far been delisted, three of which are in Canada.

Two big projects currently underway in Hamilton harbour are expected to lead to major improvements in its water quality. The first is the ongoing work encapsulating the highly toxic coal tar blob at Randle Reef. The Randle Reef Contaminated Sediment Remediation Project is scheduled for completion in 2022 at a total cost of $138.9 million spread out over three phases.

The other ongoing big-ticket item is Woodward Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is in the second year of a five-year, $340-million upgrade that will raise treatment to a modern tertiary level. This is expected to dramatically reduce discharges into the bay with most notably a reduction of 65,000 kilograms of phosphorus per year.

Status of Thunder Bay Harbour Clean-up

As reported in TB News Watch, the recommendations in a clean-up report of mercury in Thunder Bay, Ontario harbour have yet to be acted upon.  It has been more than three years since a consultant’s report identified options for the management of 400,000 cubic metres (14 million cubic feet) of mercury-contaminated sediment.

Thunder Bay is located at the northwest corner of Lake Superior and has a population of approximately 110,000.

The source of the mercury in the sediment was industrial activity along Thunder Bay’s north harbour for over 90 years including pulp and paper mill operations.  The sediment is contaminated with mercury in concentrations that range from 2 to 11 ppm at the surface of the sediment to 21 ppm at depth and ranging in thickness from 40 to 380 centimeters and covering an area of about 22 hectares (54 acres).

The preferred solution in the consultant’s report was to dredge the sediment and transfer it to the Mission Bay Confined Disposal Facility (CDF) at the harbour’s south end.  That came with an estimated cost of $40 million to $50 million, and was considered the best choice based on factors such as environmental effectiveness and cost.  The consultants also looked at other options, including building a new containment structure on the shoreline adjacent to the former Superior Fine Papers mill.

U.S. EPA Sees New Challenges Ahead for Superfund

by  Loren R. Dunn and Eric L. Klein, Beveridge & Diamond PC

The U.S. EPA released a four-year “strategic plan” in mid-February that continues to emphasize the Superfund program as one of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s top priorities.  While it has been clear since last summer’s Superfund Task Force report that the agency’s new leadership wants to accelerate Superfund site cleanups, the agency’s new strategic plan reveals for the first time that the U.S. EPA also sees emerging challenges ahead for Superfund.

“A number of factors may delay cleanup timelines,” the agency wrote in its strategy document.  These factors include the “discovery of new pathways and emerging contaminants” such as vapor intrusion and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and new science such as “new toxicity information or a new analytical method.”

Photo Credit: Michael Paulsen / Houston Chronicle

According to the strategic plan, the emergence of this kind of new information can reopen previously settled remedy determinations – and the Superfund sites that still remain on the National Priorities List (NPL) already tend to be the harder cases, with more difficult patterns of contamination and more complex remedies.  The U.S. EPA flagged in particular its waste management and chemical facility risk programs, where “rapidly changing technology, emerging new waste streams, and aging infrastructure present challenges[.]”

It remains to be seen whether the agency’s cautions in the Superfund section of its strategy document represent a meaningful shift in the agency’s frequently-stated intention to reinvigorate the Superfund program.  Early in his tenure, Mr. Pruitt charged his Superfund Task Force with generating a series of recommendations centered around Mr. Pruitt’s goals for Superfund: faster cleanups, the encouragement of cleanup and remediation investments by PRPs and private investors, and a process centered on stakeholder engagement and community revitalization.  In December 2017, in response to one of the Task Force’s recommendations, the agency released a list of 21 high-priority NPL sites that Mr. Pruitt targeted for “immediate and intense attention,” according to an U.S. EPA press release.  The cautionary notes in this week’s strategic plan are a subtle shift in tone for the U.S. EPA.

At the same time, the document also sets forth a plan for improving the consistency and certainty of EPA’s enforcement activities in the regulated community.  It remains to be seen how U.S. EPA intends to achieve consistency while being responsive to state and tribal interests.

These goals, of course, will depend on the details of implementation, which are not set forth in the strategic plan.  And such details will depend on the agency’s budget, which remains in flux for 2019 and beyond.  For example, U.S. EPA’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 sought a roughly $327 million cut in the Superfund program, but the funds were added back into the budget proposal as part of last-minute budget agreement reached in Congress last week, securing the program’s funding in the short-term.   Last year, the administration proposed a 30% cut in the agency’s funding  but Congress balked and eventually approved a budget that cut roughly 1%.

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About the Authors

Loren R. Dunn represents regional and national companies at locations throughout the country in environmental regulation and litigation issues.  Loren’s environmental projects have involved hazardous waste and large multi-party toxics cleanup sites, including marine and fresh water sediment sites, landfills, and natural resource damages claims. He has also conducted extensive work obtaining permits for key facility operations. He has particularly deep knowledge of the following industries: manufactured gas facilities, regulated utilities, smelters and metals refineries, pesticide sites, and large area contamination sites.

Eric L. Klein is an environmental civil litigator and regulatory counselor in the Washington, D.C. office of Beveridge & Diamond, P.C.  He has handled cases in state and federal courts throughout the United States, litigating a variety of complex civil and commercial matters before juries, trial and appellate courts, arbitrators and administrative tribunals.  Mr. Klein frequently litigates both statutory and common law claims, and specializes in challenging and defending technical experts in the litigation of complex environmental torts.

This article was first published on the Beveridge & Diamond PC website.

Unique oil spill in East China Sea frustrates scientists

As reported by Cally Carswell in Nature, When the Iranian oil tanker Sanchi collided with a cargo ship, caught fire and sank in the East China Sea in mid-January, an entirely new kind of maritime disaster was born. Nearly two weeks later, basic questions remain unanswered about the size of the spill, its chemical makeup and where it could end up. Without that crucial information, researchers are struggling to predict the short- and long-term ecological consequences of the incident.

Sanchi Oil Tanker partially explodes in East China Sea (Photo Credit: CNN)

“This is charting new ground, unfortunately,” says Rick Steiner, a former University of Alaska professor in Anchorage who has studied the environmental impacts of oil spills and consulted with governments worldwide on spill response. “This is probably one of the most unique spills ever.”

The infamous spills of the past — such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, or the Exxon Valdez tanker rupture in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989 — involved heavier crude oil. It can remain in the deep ocean for years and has chronic impacts on marine life. The Sanchi carried a little more than 111,300 metric tons of natural gas condensate, a lighter, more volatile petroleum product which doesn’t linger as long in the environment. Condensate has never before been unleashed into the sea in large quantities.

Unlike heavy crude, condensate doesn’t accumulate in shimmering slicks on the water’s surface, which makes it difficult to monitor and contain. Neither does it sink to the ocean floor, as do some of the heavier constituents in crude over time. Rather, it burns off, evaporates or dissolves into the surface water, where some of its chemical components can linger for weeks or months.

“Most oil spills have a chronic toxicological effect due to heavy residuals remaining and sinking over time,” says Ralph Portier, a marine microbiologist and toxicologist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. “This may be one of the first spills where short-term toxicity is of most concern.”

Missing science

A significant, but unknown, portion of the Sanchi’s condensate probably fuelled the fires that followed the collision. In the waters immediately surrounding the tanker, Portier says, the conflagration and gaseous fumes would have killed off or injured phytoplankton, along with birds, marine mammals and fish that were caught in the vicinity when the tanker ignited.

Moving beyond the fire, the impact of the accident becomes harder to discern. That’s because the exact chemical composition of the condensate has not yet been made public, Steiner says, and because no one knows how much of the condensate dissolved into the water.

“The part I’m most worried about is the dissolved fraction,” Steiner says. Toxic chemicals in the condensate could harm plankton, fish larvae and invertebrate larvae at fairly low concentrations at the sea surface, he says. Fish could suffer reproductive impairments so long as chemicals persist in the water, and birds and marine mammals might experience acute chemical exposure. “In a turbulent, offshore environment, it dilutes fairly quickly,” he says. “But it’s still toxic.”

Because this type of spill is new, Portier says, researchers don’t yet understand the ultimate consequences of acute exposure to condensate in the sea, where it’s breaking down and dispersing. “That’s really where the science is missing,” he says.

Destination unknown

Researchers are also scrambling to assess where pollutants from the Sanchi could travel. Groups in both China and the United Kingdom have run ocean-circulation models to predict the oil’s journey, and the models agree that much of the pollution is likely to end up in a powerful current known as the Kuroshio, which flows past southeastern Japan and out to the North Pacific. The European models suggest that chemicals from the Sanchi could reach the coast of Japan within a month. But the Chinese models indicate that they are unlikely to intrude on Japanese shores at all.

Katya Popova, a modeller with the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK, isn’t sure why the models disagree. But she says that the discrepancy points to the importance of forging international collaborations to increase confidence in model projections during emergencies. “This is something that the oil industry should organize and fund to improve preparedness,” she says.

Fangli Qiao with China’s State Oceanic Administration in Qingdao says his group’s models indicate that the pollution’s probable path overlaps with Japanese sardine and anchovy fisheries. But Popova cautions that the models are not necessarily good indicators of potential harm to fisheries or coastlines.

“All we’re saying is, if something is spilled here at this time, we can give you the most probable distribution,” she says. “We don’t know what type of oil or how much.” Those are crucial details because condensate components could degrade or evaporate before reaching important fisheries or shores. “A monitoring programme is the most pressing need right now,” Popova says, “to see where it goes and in what concentration.”

Yet Steiner says that comprehensive environmental monitoring doesn’t seem to have started. Official Chinese-government statements have included results from water-quality monitoring at the wreckage site, but none from the downstream currents that could be dispersing the pollution. “Time is of the essence, particularly with a volatile substance like condensate,” Steiner says. “They needed to immediately be doing plankton monitoring, and monitoring of fish, sea birds. I’ve seen no reports of any attempt to do that.”

Nature 554, 17-18 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-00976-9

U.S. EPA Targets Superfund Sites for Immediate Clean-up

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) recently released a list of Superfund Sites targeted for immediate, intense action, as of December 8th 2017. The list is a response to July’s Superfund Task Force Recommendations. The U.S. EPA considers the sites listed to benefit from Administrator Scott Pruitt’s direct engagement, requiring timely resolve of specific issues to streamline cleanup and redevelopment and protect human health and the environment.

3D Image of NAPL contamination at the B.F. GOODRICH facility in Calvert City, KY

The list, spanning all ten EPA regions across the United States, with accompanying plans, issues, and categorizations associated with each site, can be found here.

As reported in the Washington Post, the push is part of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s promise to prioritize the decades-old cleanup program, even as the Trump administration shrinks the size and reach of the EPA. The 21 sites highlighted by the agency span the country, from a former tannery site in New Hampshire to a contaminated landfill from the World War II-era Manhattan Project in St. Louis to an abandoned copper mine in Nevada.

“By elevating these sites, we are sending a message that EPA is, in fact, restoring its Superfund program to its rightful place at the center of the agency’s mission,” Pruitt said in a statement. “Getting toxic land sites cleaned up and revitalized is of the utmost importance to the communities across the country that are affected by these sites.”

The U.S. EPA said that it developed the list using sites “where opportunities exist to act quickly and comprehensively.” Notably, the agency also acknowledged that “there is no commitment of additional funding associated with a site’s inclusion on the list.”

Victoria Harbour, B.C. cleanup contract awarded to Milestone Environmental Contracting Inc.

Cleanup work to remove hazardous substances from Victoria Harbour in British Columbia is scheduled to begin shortly with the announcement early this month by Transport Canada that a clean-up contract had been awarded to Milestone Environmental Contracting Limited.  Under the $5,344,000 contract, Milestone will remove hazardous chemicals in sediments from Victoria’s Middle Harbour sea bed.

Victoria, B.C. is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island off Canada’s Pacific coast.  The city has a population of 86,000.  The harbour serves as a cruise ship and ferry destination for tourists and visitors to the city and Vancouver Island.

Map of Sediment Clean-up Area of Victoria Harbour, British Columbia

Once the contaminated sediments are removed, it is anticipated that the environmental health of the harbour will be restored.  Studies by Transport Canada found that presence of persistent contaminants in the sediments that don’t break down and remain in the environment.  The contaminants threaten the marine food web.

The cleanup work will begin in November 2017 and is expected to be completed by January 2018.  This involves dredging of contaminated sediment, and transporting the sediment by barge to an approved facility for treatment and disposal.  It is estimated that the dredging work will remove 1,200 cubic metres (4,200 cubic feet) of contaminated sediment from the sea bed.  The harbour bed will be backfilled with clean material.

The project will be closely monitored by Transport Canada to ensure the safety of workers and the community.  Sediment and water quality will be monitored throughout the project to ensure that cleanup objectives are met and that the dredging activities do not have a negative impact on the surrounding environment.  For the public’s safety, sections of the lower David Foster Pathway at Laurel Point Park may be closed, but the upper pathway will remain open for the duration of the project.

The Victoria Middle Harbour Remediation Project is funded through the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan, which is coordinated by Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, and provides funding to assess and remediate federal contaminated sites.

The source of the contamination in the harbour is from a paint factory that occupied Laurel Point from 1906 until the mid-1970’s.  Factory operations caused damage to the sediments surrounding Laurel Point Park.

Laurel Point, Victoria Harbour, British Columbia

Long Lake Gold Mine remediation project hits stumbling block

As reported by the CBC, the Long Lake Gold Mine Remediation Project near Sudbury, Ontario will not be getting started until 2019.

The Province on Ontario first announced its commitment to remediate the abandoned gold mine back in 2013.  The lake, located near a popular recreation area, had high levels of arsenic.

Long Lake Gold mine operated intermittently from 1908 to 1937 and produced approximately 200,000 tonnes of tailings.  The tailings were discharged directly to the environment without containment.  The tailings have since eroded into Luke Creek and Long Lake.  The tailings are acid generating and leach acidic water that is high in metal contamination, specifically arsenic.  The Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNMD) sampling in the south end of Long Lake identified arsenic contamination above the Ontario Drinking Water Standard.

Long Lake (Photo Credit: Markus Schwabe/CBC)

The MNDM initiated a review of remediation alternatives to clean up the tailings area and has selected a preferred method of relocating all fugitive tailings to a new containment facility that will be constructed on site.  The objective of remediation efforts is to reduce the arsenic concentration in Long Lake below the provincial drinking water limit, such that water quality in the south bay of Long Lake will recover to background conditions.

The latest delay in the remediation project is the result of the MNDM addressing some concerns of nearby residents who are concerned that the clean-up will result in increased truck traffic on the existing road to the lake.

The chair of the Long Lake Stewardship group says residents are aware of the notion “short term pain for long term gain” when it comes to the completion of the remediation project.

“But I think the concern I heard was the number of trucks that would be travelling on the road, day-in and day-out through the restoration phase,” Scott Darling said.

“Primarily what I heard in terms of the concerns were the traffic, the increased traffic that’s going to occur over the two-year period on Long Lake Road and Tilton Lake Road and South End Road — the wavy trail.”

Roads in the area will see 50 to 60 trucks a day hauling out contaminated material and bringing in clean fill.

The remediation project is expected to run between two and three years.

Darling says it could be closer to 2019 before the project gets started.

More information on the proposed clean-up of the Long Lake can be found in the MNMD environmental assessment document.

 

New spill rules tag transport companies with response, recovery costs in B.C.

As reported by Dirk Meissner of the Canadian Press, the Government of British Columbia has introduced pollution prevention regulations to hold transport companies moving petroleum products across the province responsible for the costs of responding to and cleaning up spills.

Environment Minister George Heyman said recently that the new regulations will take affect at the end of October and apply to pipeline, railway and truck company owners and transporters moving more than 10,000 litres of liquid petroleum products.

The rules increase responsibility, transparency and accountability for operators who transport potentially dangerous products through B.C., he said.

“I would hope that business doesn’t believe that individual members of the public through their tax dollars should be responsible for cleaning up spills they incur in the course of doing business and making a profit.”

The aim of the new rules is to prevent spill sites from being left contaminated for months and sometimes years, Heyman said, noting companies will be required to submit spill response and recovery plans ahead of moving their products.

“Most people subscribe to the polluter pay principle,” he said. “These regulations also require that spill contingency plans be put into place and that recovery plans and reporting plans be implemented in the case of a spill. That’s just reasonable.”

CN Rail said in a statement that it continues to work with the B.C. government and its industry partners on emergency response and preparation plans. The railway transports oil and numerous other products, including grain, across B.C.

“Emergency and spill response preparation and training is an important part of our business,” the statement said. “CN has in place emergency response plans and conducts spill and emergency response training with stakeholders across our network.”

The B.C. Trucking Association said in a statement that it supports the province’s new rules.

“We have been actively engaged in working with the government on the development of these regulations because the safety of our drivers, the public and the environment is our number one priority,” the statement said.

New pollution prevention regulations will hold transport companies and pipeline operators moving petroleum products across British Columbia responsible for spill response and recovery costs. A pipeline at the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, with an oil tanker in dock on Burrard Inlet.

Last spring, the previous Liberal government amended the Environmental Management Act to include some of the new regulations, but Heyman said he further tweaked the polluter pay regulations to ensure annual public reporting by the government.

He said he also shortened the deadline for operators to put their spill contingency plans in place to one year for trucking companies and six months for railways and pipelines.

The new rules do not apply to marine vessels carrying petroleum products along the B.C. coastline.

“Marine spills are regulated by the federal government but there is some jurisdiction for the province if a marine spill ends up washing onto the shoreline of B.C.’s jurisdiction or the seabed,” Heyman said.

The province is developing a strengthened marine response and recovery program that complements federal spill regulations, he added.

The new regulations come on the one-year anniversary of a fuel spill off B.C.’s central coast, where a tug sank, spilling more than 100,000 litres of diesel into waters near the Great Bear Rainforest.

Marilyn Slett, chief of the Heiltsuk First Nation, said the sinking of the tug, Nathan E. Stewart, has had devastating social and economic impacts on her community.

A valuable fishing area remains closed a year after the spill and many Heiltsuk face the prospect of a second year without revenue from the area’s valuable shellfish species, she said.

by Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

U.S. EPA Evaluates Hurricane Harvey impact on U.S. Superfund Sites in Texas

In a September 8th update, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) stated that the two agencies continue to get updates about the status of specific Superfund sites from the parties responsible for ongoing cleanup of the sites.  The TCEQ has completed the assessment of all 17 state Superfund sites in the area affected by Hurricane Harvey.  The two agencies reported that there were no major issues noted.  The TCEQ will continue to monitor sites to ensure no further action is needed in regards to the storm.

The U.S. EPA completed site assessments at all 43 Superfund sites affected by the storm.  Of these sites, two (San Jacinto and U.S. Oil Recovery) require additional assessment efforts.  Assessments of these sites will take several more days to complete.

Harris County, Texas Superfund Sites Map

 

The San Jacinto Waste Pits site has a temporary armored cap designed to prevent migration of hazardous material.  The U.S. EPA remedial manager is onsite and overseeing the assessment.  Crews continue to survey portions of the cap that are submerged.  There are some areas where rock has been displaced and the liner is exposed.  The potential responsible party has mobilized heavy equipment and is placing rock on different places on the armored cap to repair the defensive surface. The liner is in place and functional so we don’t have any indication that the underlying waste materials have been exposed. If we find a breach in the exposed liner, we direct the responsible party to collect samples to determine if any materials have been released. Also, the EPA has dive teams to survey the cap underwater if needed.

Work to improve conditions after the storm has continued at the U.S. Oil Recovery site to address flood water from the storm.  Nine vacuum truckloads of approximately 45,000 gallons of storm water were removed and shipped offsite for disposal.  No sheen or odor was observed in the overflowing water, and an additional tank is being used to maintain freeboard to keep water on-site.  The U.S. EPA has directed potential responsible parties or has independently started collecting samples at the 43 Superfund sites to further confirm any impacts from the storm.  The total number of Superfund sites increased from 41 to 43 with the addition of Rapides Parish, Louisiana and Waller County, Texas as disaster declared areas.  Sampling efforts of all 43 sites is expected to be completed early next week with sample results will be available soon.