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Fine for Illegal Storage of PCBs

Recently in a Quebec court, Mr. Isaac Gelber pleaded guilty to three charges related to the illegal use/storage of PCBs and he was fined $25,500 under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

The investigation, led by Environment and Climate Change Canada, showed that Mr. Isaac Gelber had committed several violations to the Act, namely:

  • Using transformers containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) thereby violating the PCB Regulations;
  • Failing to comply with the environmental protection compliance order, issued by an officer in January 2013, to dispose of three (3) transformers containing more than 500 mg/kg of PCBs
  • Knowingly making false or misleading statements

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) used to be very popular in a wide range of industrial and electrical applications. They were excellent fire resistant coolants and insulating fluids in transformers, capacitors, cables, light ballasts, bridge bearings, and magnets, among many other things.  Unfortunately, they turned out to be persistent and toxic to humans and the environment. PCBs can:

  • Travel long distances and deposit far away from their sources of release
  • Accumulate in the fatty tissues of living organisms
  • Cause complications like cancer and birth defects
  • Potentially disrupt immune and reproductive systems and even diminish intelligence.

Amended PCB Regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA), came into force on September 5, 2008. The new regulations set phase out dates for in –use PCB equipment, as well as rigorous labelling and reporting requirements.  They also require prompt and proper disposal of PCB equipment, once it is no longer in active use.

The Department of Environment and Climate Change enforcement officers conduct inspections and investigations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.  They ensure that regulated organizations and individuals are in compliance with environmental legislation.

 

U.S. Federal Appeals Court finds Exxon not quality for Oil Spill in Arkansas

As reported in Inside Climate News, a federal appeals court has let ExxonMobil largely off the hook for a 2013 pipeline spill that deluged a neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas, with more than 200,000 gallons of heavy tar sands crude oil, sickening residents and forcing them from their homes.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday overturned federal findings of violations and the better part of a $2.6 million fine imposed on Exxon’s pipeline unit in 2015 by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The regulator had accused the company of failing to maintain the decades-old Pegasus Pipeline and to prioritize testing of a segment of older, high-risk pipe where a 22-foot gash eventually opened along a metal seam.

Oil Spill – Mayflower , Arkansas

Exxon challenged the violation and fine, arguing there was no proof its actions contributed to the spill and saying it had conducted adequate testing of the pipeline as required by law. The appeals court agreed, saying the company met its legal obligation when it “conducted a lengthy, repeated and in-depth analysis” of the pipeline and its risks.

“The unfortunate fact of the matter is that, despite adherence to safety guidelines and regulations, oil spills still do occur,” the court concluded. It called PHMSA’s determination that the company failed to consider risks “arbitrary and capricious.”

In October 2015, PHMSA sent the company a 46-page order, citing nine violations. Ultimately, Exxon challenged six of those violations. The court sided with Exxon on five of them, saying the company took sufficient steps to analyze risks along the pipeline. On one violation—accusing Exxon of saying it had run a certain test on the pipeline when it had not—the court agreed with PHMSA, but it noted the company’s misrepresentation was not a “causal factor in the Mayflower Accident,” as the agency asserted. The court said it would ask the agency to re-evaluate an appropriate penalty for that violation. Exxon has also reached separate settlements with homeowners and governments related to the pipeline spill.

The pipeline consists of three separate sections—built in 1947, 1954 and 1973—that were joined as one system in 2005 and 2006 to carry oil along an 859-mile stretch, southward from from Pakota, Illinois, to Nederland, Texas. The segment that burst is in the oldest section of the pipeline and is made of “low-frequency electric-resistance welded” (LF-ERW) steel pipe, made before 1970 and known to have a higher risk of rupturing along its lengthwise seams because of a manufacturing defect.

The Pipeline Safety Act requires pipeline operators to create “Integrity Management Programs,” which include a written plan to assess pipelines and prioritize certain sections for testing based on risks. The regulations spell out the methods pipeline operators can use to perform these “integrity assessments.” If the pipe is LF-ERW pipe that’s susceptible to “longitudinal seam failure,” the assessment methods have to be capable of detecting corrosion and assessing the strength of the seams. But the law isn’t clear how operators should determine if pipelines are likely to suffer “longitudinal seam failure” in the first place.

The court said that the “pipeline integrity regulations themselves did not provide ExxonMobil notice that the pipeline’s leak history compelled it to label the LF-ERW pipe susceptible to longitudinal seam failure.”

Mount Polley Subject To Private Prosecution Due To Province’s Failure To Act

Article by Paula Lombardi from Siskinds LLP

In the fall of 2016 MiningWatch Canada initiated a private prosecution under the Fisheries Act against the British Columbia government and Mount Polley mine as a result of the collapse of the Mount Polley tailings dam in 2014. The failure of the dam resulted in 25 million cubic metres of washwater and mine waste being released downstream into Hazelton Creek, Polley Lake and Qeusnel Lake. The contents of the washwater and mining waste including mercury, lead and other toxic waste.

In the charges, MiningWatch Canada alleged that the dam released mine waste in 2014 directly into British Columbia’s Cariboo region creating a new valley and permanently destroying or altering fish habitat. It is believed that the release of the mine waste has impacted 20 different species of fish.

Mount Polley Mine

In March 2017, MiningWatch’s private prosecution against both the province and Mount Polley Mining was stayed. A lawyer for British Columbia stated that the private prosecution was not in the public interest because the British Columbia Conservation Officer Service, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada were already investigating the incident.

The newly elected British Columbia government announced the first week of August 2017 that it would not be pursuing charges against the mine before the expiration of three year limitation deadline on the basis that “an investigation was still ongoing.” This decision leaves it solely to the Federal government to determine whether or not to pursue charges against the mine under the Fisheries Act.

On August 4, 2017, three years after the spill of the mine waste, and at the end of the three year limitation period within which the province can initiate charges, Bev Sellars, indigenous activist and former Chief of the Xat’sull First Nation, filed charges against the Mount Polley Mining Corporation. 15 charges in total, 10 under the B.C. Environmental Management Act and 5 under the B.C. Mines Act, were brought by Bev Sellars as part of a private prosecution against Mount Polley. These charges relate to the dumping of contaminated mining waste into the environment and surrounding waterways, and poor and unsafe operational practices contrary to the permits issued to the corporation and the statutory regime. These charges can potentially be taken over by the provincial government. The private prosecution is supported by numerous organizations including MiningWatch Canada, West Coast Environmental Law’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund, the Wilderness Committee and the First Nation Women Advocating for Responsible Mining.

B.C’s chief inspector of mines along with an independent panel of engineering experts concluded that the collapse resulted from a poorly designed dam that failed to take into account drainage and erosion failures.

The British Columbia auditor general in its May 2016 report concluded that compliance and enforcement in British Columbia’s Ministry of Mines, Energy and Petroleum Resources and Ministry of Environment and Climate Change were inadequate and “not set up to protect the province from environmental risks.”

The news release relating to the May 2016 report from the Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia stated the following as it relates to the departments audit of compliance and enforcement of the mining sector:

“Almost all of our expectations for a robust compliance and enforcement program were not met,” [says Bellringer]. “The compliance and enforcement activities of both the Ministry of Energy and Mines, and the Ministry of Environment are not set up to protect the province from environmental risks.”

The findings indicate major gaps in resources, planning and tools in both ministries. For example, both ministries have insufficient staff to address a growing number of permits, and staff work with cumbersome and incomplete data systems.

As a result, monitoring and inspections of mines were inadequate to ensure mine operators complied with requirements. Additionally, some mining companies have not provided government with enough financial security deposits to cover potential reclamation costs if a mining company defaults on its obligations. It’s underfunded by over $1 billion – a liability that could potentially fall to taxpayers.
In light of the May 2016 Auditor General’s report, we expect that the goal with the filing of these recent charges would be to encourage the province to take over the charges and enforce its own laws. Under the B. C. Environmental Management Act, the Court can order alternative remedies including but not limited to remediation, compensation and restoration of fish habitat.

 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.

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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 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.