U.S. EPA Releases Annual Enforcement Statistics

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) recently released its annual environmental enforcement report.  In its report, which covers prosecutions for the 2016-2017 fiscal year (ending September 30th 2017), the U.S. EPA states that nearly $5 billion (U.S.) had been levied out in criminal fines and civil penalties.  It also stated that enforcement actions have also led to the commitment by companies to clean-up contaminated sites across the U.S.

In contrast, Canada does not issue an annual enforcement report.  However, the total sum of announced penalties by the Canadian federal government totaled approximately $15 million in 2017.

The bulk of the monetary fines levied in the U.S. was from the settlement with Volkswagen.  The company agreed to pay $1.45 billion (U.S.) in civil penalties because of its use of illegal software to foil emissions testing.

The U.S. EPA was alerted by an environmental activist group, The International Council on Clean Transportation in 2013 that on-road emission tests of Volkswagen vehicles were dramatically different than off-road test in garages.  The finding led U.S. EPA officials to discover that Volkswagen had installed software in vehicles to shut off the emissions control system during driving and only turned it on during off-road testing.

A worker tests a red 2016 Volkswagen AG Golf TDI emissions certification vehicle on Sept. 22, 2015. (Photo Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News)

The $1.45 billion fine levied against Volkswagen still dwarfs the $6 billion penalty paid by BP for the 2010 oil spill from Horizon One oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

In contrast, the largest fine ever meted out in Canada was $3.5 million (Cdn.) to Prairie Mines & Royalty ULC in 2017 wastewater spill at a mine.

Included in the report, was the note of the legal commitment made by companies clean-up sites they had contaminated.  The estimated cost of that clean-ups is $1.2 billion (U.S.).

With respect to jail time for environmental criminals, the U.S. EPA prosecuted individuals and U.S. courts meted out a total of 150 years in jail for persons found guilty of environmental offences.  In contrast, the total jail time Canadian courts meted out for environmental offenders was less than one year.

Critics of the U.S. EPA note that the high level of enforcement actions may not continue.  Critics point to an analysis by the New York Times in late 2017 that concluded that the U.S. EPA under its latest head, Scott Pruitt, has initiated about one-third fewer civil enforcement cases than the number under the previous U.S. EPA director.

Mining company in B.C. fined $200,000 for Failure to Sample Effluent

Barkerville Gold Mines Ltd. (TSXV: BGM) was recently ordered to pay $200,000 after pleading guilty, in Provincial Court of British Columbia, to violations under the Canadian Fisheries Act related to the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations.

The fine was the result of routine inspections conducted by Environment and Climate Change Canada enforcement officers at the Cariboo gold mine in Central British Columbia.  During inspections, it was revealed that the company failed to complete sampling, notify authorities of having deposited effluent into fish-bearing water without authorization, and submit reports on time.  The effluent was deposited into Lowhee Creek, part of the Willow River system—an important fish-bearing watershed.  The Metal Mining Effluent Regulations authorize deposits of effluent provided that conditions stipulated in the regulations are respected.

About Barkerville Gold Mines Ltd. is focused on developing its extensive land package located in the historical Cariboo Mining District of central British Columbia. Barkerville’s mineral tenures cover 1,950 square kilometres along a strike length of 67 kilometres which includes several past producing hard rock mines of the historic Barkerville Gold Mining Camp near the town of Wells, British Columbia.

Drillers at Barkerville Gold Mines’ Cow Mountain gold project in the Cariboo mining district

Alberta Coal mine fined $1 million for Fisheries Act Violations

Sherritt International Corporation (Sherritt) recently pleaded guilty in the Provincial Court of Alberta to three counts of contravening the Canadian Fisheries Act.  Sherritt was sentenced to pay $1,050,000.  As a result of this conviction, the company’s name will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry.

The Coal Valley Mine, which was owned by Sherritt, from 2001 to 2014, is an open-pit coal mine located 90 km south of Edson, Alberta.  The Coal Valley Mine is a 20,660 Ha. surface mine. The mine operates both truck/shovel and dragline pits and utilizes a dragline for coal removal. The area has a long history of mining and the Coal Valley Mine was opened in 1978 to supply coal to Ontario Hydro and for overseas export.

Coal is uncovered at the mine using the two draglines  and two truck/shovel fleets. The exposed coal is hauled from the mine to the heavy media wash plant where the waste is removed and then loaded on trains to be shipped to the ports. Current annual production of the mine is 3.0 million tonnes and the plant has capacity to operate at 4.0 million tonnes per year.

On August 3rd, 2012, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) enforcement officers visited the mine in response to a spill report, and they determined that effluent being deposited from a waste-water pond was deleterious to fish. ECCC enforcement officers subsequently issued a direction under the Fisheries Act, which resulted in the deposit being stopped.  Further investigation by ECCC determined that there were two previous releases of deleterious effluent from waste-water ponds, on July 27th, 2011.

The releases went into tributaries of the Athabasca River, including the Erith River portions, which are identified by the Government of Alberta as “ecologically significant habitat” for Athabasca rainbow trout, a species at risk.

The waste-water ponds at the Coal Valley Mine collected surface water that was treated with a chemical flocculant to remove suspended sediment before being discharged.  Both suspended sediment and an excess of flocculant can be toxic to fish.

Of the $1,050,000 fine, $990,000 will be directed to the Environmental Damages Fund (EDF).  The EDF was created in 1995 by the Government of Canada. The fund follows the polluter pays principle, and it ensures that court-awarded penalties are used for projects with positive environmental impacts.

Teck Coal Ltd. fined $1.4 million for Toxic Release

Teck Coal Limited recently pleaded guilty to three counts of contravening the Canadian Fisheries Act in the Provincial Court of British Columbia.   The court ordered the company to pay a penalty of $1,425,000, which will be directed to the federal Environmental Damages Fund, and used for purposes related to the conservation and protection of fish or fish habitat or the restoration of fish habitat in the East Kootenay region of B.C.  Additionally, Teck Resources will post information regarding this conviction on its website.  As a result of this conviction, the company’s name will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry.

Teck Coal’s Line Creek Operations is located in southeastern British Columbia.  On October 17th, 2014, enforcement officers from Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC) launched an investigation following a report that fish had been found dead in ponds connected to Line Creek which runs adjacent to the coal mining operation.  During the investigation, ECCC enforcement officers found that the effluent from the water treatment facility going into Line Creek was deleterious to fish.  Numerous dead fish were found in the Line Creek watershed as a result of this discharge, including Bull trout.  Bull trout are identified as a species of special concern in this area of British Columbia.

The company has a permit to discharge treated effluent into the Line Creek, however in the fall of 2014, there was a malfunction of the treatment system.  As a result, toxic levels of nitrate, phosphorus, selenium and hydrogen sulfates entered the Line Creek, subsequently killing over 74 fish.

Line Creek is identified by the Government of British Columbia as part of a “Classified Water” system.  This provincial classification means that the water system is seen to have a high fisheries value and it requires special fishing licenses.

Teck’s West Line Creek Active Water Treatment Facility cost $120 million to construct.  The facility treats up to 7,500 m3 (2 million gallons) of water per day – enough to fill three Olympic-sized swimming pools.  Selenium concentrations are reduced by about 96% in treated water, to below 20 parts per billion.  Nitrate concentrations are reduced by over 99% in treated water, to below 3 parts per million.

Teck’s West Line Creek Active Water Treatment Facility

Teck’s Line Creek operation produces steelmaking coal – also called metallurgical coal or coking coal — which is used to make steel.  The processed coal is transported by sea to the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere.  The current annual production capacities of the mine and preparation plant are approximately 3.5 and 3.5 million tonnes of clean coal, respectively. Proven and probable reserves at Line Creek are projected to support mining at planned production rates for a further 23 years.