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Court Upholds Decision That The Ministry May Order Current And Former Owners, And Tenants To Delineate Contamination That Has Migrated Off-Site

Article by Stanley D. Berger and Albert M. Engel

Fogler, Rubinoff LLP

On September 4, 2018, Ontario’s Divisional Court released its decision in Hamilton Beach Brands Canada, Inc. v. Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, 2018 ONSC 5010, dismissing an appeal of a September 1, 2017 decision of Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal (Hamilton Beach Brands Canada Inc. v. Ontario (Environment and Climate Change), 2017 CanLII 57415 (ON ERT)) in which the Tribunal upheld the Ministry’s jurisdiction to order current and former owners and tenants of a contaminated property to delineate contamination that has migrated to off-site properties. The Tribunal’s decision also found that the Ministry had jurisdiction to make an order regarding existing, ongoing and future adverse effects, that the adverse effects do not have to be related to the potential off-site migration of a contaminant, nor must the contaminant be on an orderee’s property at the time the order is made and that the order may require work on-site and off-site to address an adverse effect.

In upholding the Tribunal’s decision, the Divisional Court found that there is no geographical constraint limiting orders to the source property of the contamination and quoted the Tribunal’s observation that “contamination and adverse effects are not constrained by the boundaries of a property, either in initial discharge or because of migration”. The Divisional Court also found that the Tribunal’s interpretation of the Ministry’s order-making jurisdiction is consistent with the Brownfield regime since protection from orders is extinguished under the regime when contaminants migrate from a property that was subject to that regime.

The former appliance manufacturing plant on McFarland Drive that is the property in question in the  Hamilton Beach Brands Canada, Inc. v. Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, 2018 ONSC 5010 (Phtoto Credit: Jason Parks/Picton Gazette)

The order provisions of s.18(2) of the Environmental Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c.E.19 were at issue in this case. This is the first Divisional Court decision interpreting the geographic extent of the powers set out in s.18(2). The decision confirms that the powers are expansive and should be considered by any current, former or prospective owner or tenant of a contaminated property. We will continue to monitor this case should it be appealed further.

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 Authors

Mr. Berger has practiced regulatory law for 37 years. He represents nuclear operators and suppliers, waste management operators, renewable energy operators, receivers-in-bankruptcy, municipalities and First Nations. He was an Assistant Crown Attorney in Toronto for 8 years, Senior counsel and Deputy Director for Legal Services/Prosecutions at the Ministry of the Environment for 9 years and Assistant General Counsel at Ontario Power Generation Inc for 14 years.
He is the author of a quarterly loose-leaf service published by Thomson Reuters entitled the Prosecution and Defence of Environmental Offences and the editor of an annual review of environmental law.
Mr. Berger was the President of the International Nuclear Law Association (2008-2009) and the founder, and President of the Canadian Nuclear Law Organization.

Mr. Engel practice all aspects of Environmental and Renewable Energy Law. He advises clients in the development and operation of renewable energy projects, regulatory compliance and civil causes of action.He represent clients before Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal and all levels of court. He assist clients with defences to environmental and other regulatory prosecutions, appeals of environmental orders and civil litigation involving environmental issues including contaminated lands.

Mr. Engel has a Masters degree in Environmental Studies and is Certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as a Specialist in Environmental Law.

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. 

Couple admits illegally storing 4,500 tons of hazardous waste in warehouse

As reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a husband and wife recently plead guilty to a U.S. federal charge and admitted improperly transporting 4,500 tons of hazardous waste and storing it in a warehouse near St. Louis, Missouri.

The couple, both in their 60’s, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in St. Louis to a misdemeanor charge of placing someone in danger of death or serious bodily injury from a hazardous waste.

Green Materials LLC facility in Missouri (Photo Credit: Robert Patrick, Post Dispatch)

Their company, Missouri Green Materials LLC, Missouri Green Materials LLC stored a large quantity of spent sandblasting materials inside a warehouse located in the town of Berger, approximately 70 miles west of St. Louis.  They couple admitted that they arranged for the transport and storage of the hazardous waste from Mississippi, and failed to tell both the trucking companies that hauled the waste and the personnel that unloaded it of the danger.  Their storage facility was not properly permitted was not registered as a permitted hazardous waste storage or recycling facility.

The sandblasting waste materials are considered to be hazardous because they contain amounts of certain metals, including cadmium, that exceed regulatory limits established by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA).

The materials were stored in a warehouse in a flood plain for more than four years.  There are no indications of any release of the materials from the warehouse.

The couple have agreed to pay $1.5 million to the U.S. EPA for the costs of dealing with the waste. They could face probation or a sentence of six months behind bars for the crime under federal sentencing guidelines.

The source of the sandblasting waste was for a site in Mississippi.  An Ohio company, U.S. Technology Corp had been buried the waste.  The company was repeatedly ordered by regulators to remove it.

In 2016, the U.S. EPA and U.S. Technology signed a consent agreement whereby the company agreed to remove the waste from Green Material’s facility in Missouri and test the site for soil contamination.  According to prosecutors, this work was never performed.

U.S. Technology and president Raymond Williams, 71, both pleaded not guilty in the case. A hearing has been scheduled to change both pleas later in June.

Some sandblasting waste is classified as hazardous

BC Seeks Feedback on Second Phase of the Spill Response Regime

WRITTEN BY:

Bennett Jones LLP

David Bursey, Radha Curpen, and Sharon Singh

[co-author: Charlotte Teal, Articling Student]

Phase-2 to BC’s Spill Response Regime

The British Columbia government is moving forward with the second phase of spill regulations, announcing further stakeholder engagement on important elements, such as spill response in sensitive areas and geographic response plans. The government will also establish an independent scientific advisory panel to recommend whether, and how, heavy oils (such as bitumen) can be safely transported and cleaned up. While the advisory panel is proceeding, the government is proposing regulatory restrictions on the increase of diluted bitumen (dilbit) transportation.

The second phase engagement process follows the first phase of regulatory overhaul introduced in October 2017, when the Province established higher standards for spill preparedness, response and recovery.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

Feedback and Engagement

The Province is planning an intentions paper for the end of February 2018 that will outline the government’s proposed regulations and will be available for public comment.

In particular, the Province will seek feedback on:

  1. response times, to ensure timely responses to spills;
  2. geographic response plans, to ensure that resources are available to support an immediate response that account for the unique characteristics of sensitive areas;
  3. compensation for loss of public and cultural use of land, resources or public amenities in the case of spills;
  4. maximizing application of regulations to marine spills; and
  5. restrictions on the increase of dilbit transportation until the behaviour of spilled bitumen can be better understood and there is certainty regarding the ability to adequately mitigate spills.

What this means for industry

This second phase was planned follow up to the October 2017 regulations. Many of the proposed regulatory changes have been part of ongoing stakeholder discussions for the past few years. However, the prospect of permanent restrictions or a ban on the increased transportation of dilbit off the coast of B.C. and the prospect of further regulatory recommendations from the independent scientific advisory panel creates uncertainty for Canada’s oil sector.

The government’s emphasis on environmental concerns related to bitumen and its recent initiatives to restrict oil exports to allow time for more study of marine impacts will further fuel the national discourse on how to export Canada’s oil to international markets from the Pacific Coast.

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This article was first published on the Bennett Jones LLP website.

About the Authors

Key Developments in Environmental Law in Canada from 2017

A book on the developments in environmental law in Canada during 2017 was recently published by Thomson Reuters.  Edited by Stanley D. Berger of Fogler Rubinoff LLP, the book includes a number of interesting chapters related to contaminated sites and the issues raised in the Midwest Properties Ltd. v. Thordarson (“Midwest”) court case.  The Midwest case is part of a possible trend in Canada toward awarding damages based on restoration costs rather than diminution in value.  If nothing, else the Midwest Case has introduced uncertainty to the law of damages in contaminated sites cases.

In the chapter written by Natalie Mullins, a litigation partner in the Advocacy and Environmental groups in the Toronto office of Gowling WLG, on the evolution and current state of law on damages in contaminated sites, she states that despite being explicit about awarding compensatory damages only under section 99 of the Alberta Environmental Protection Act (“EPA”) and not at common law, the Alberta Court of Appeal may have implied that restoration costs are the default measure of damages in contaminated sites cases.  She also explores some other critical issues that have arisen post-Midwest, such as:

  • Whether diminution in value is still relevant to the measure of damages;
  • What it means to “restore” a real property;
  • How the court can take a proactive role to ensure that awards made to benefit the environment actually meet that objective; and
  • How defence counsel might prevent similar awards in the future, and how plaintiff’s counsel might use the case to obtain significant damages for their clients.

An interesting point raised by Ms. Mullins in her contaminated sites chapter is that in recent court cases, highlighted with Midwest, court decisions may be paving the way for plaintiffs to recover very significant damage awards for the contaminated of their sites that grossly exceed their actual loss and, in certain circumstances, may be completely unwarranted.

Ms. Mullins questions if the Midwest decision has created the potential for litigants to profit off purchasing contaminated sites and for defendants to face double jeopardy following judgment at trial.

The book is available at online for $144 (Cdn.).