In the Sale of Property, Responsibility for Removal and Remediation of Underground Storage Tanks needs to be clear

Written by Stan Berger, Fogler Rubinoff LLP

On January 9, 2020, the British Columbia Supreme Court in Walton v. Warren 2020 BCSC 19 found in favour of the Purchaser when an undiscovered underground storage tank required removal and site remediation following closing. This ruling was given despite the Purchaser having signed off on an inspection report prior to closing. The purchase and sale agreement provided that the Seller had to ensure that any underground storage tank (UST) located on the property be removed and the surrounding soil remediated. The Seller was responsible for all costs. The Seller had to provide written confirmation before the Completion Date from the tank removal contractor and relevant provincial and local authorities that the remediation complied with provincial or local government laws. The Purchaser had to obtain and approve an inspection report 6 weeks before the completion date. The report recommended that a specialist company survey and sweep the property to determine the presence of buried oil tanks. The Purchaser’s realtor arranged for a scan of the property free of charge. This was followed by a scanning company’s report stating there was no evidence of any UST. The contract closed on schedule and almost 3 years later the basement of the property flooded. During a necessary drain replacement a UST was discovered requiring its removal and remediation at a cost of $42,000. The Purchaser sued the sellers.

The Judge found that the existence of the UST was unknown to the Seller at the time of the sale. The Seller argued that their obligation with respect to responsibility for any underground storage tank ended upon the closing. The Purchaser completed the purchase being satisfied with the condition of the property. The judge disagreed finding in the Purchaser’s favour.

“[62] There is no language in the Addendum which could be interpreted as limiting the defendants’ obligations only to those USTs that were discovered prior to the Completion Date or to those USTs of which they were aware. [63] The Addendum does not include any conditional language. For example, it does not say that the defendants are to remove and remediate “any oil tank that is discovered prior to the Completion Date” or “any oil tank that they are aware of prior to the Completion Date”.

Moreover the survival clause in the agreement contained no exceptions.

The lesson here is that courts are disinclined to infer any limit on the responsibility of a party when the language in the contract isn’t clear.

This publication is intended for general information purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice.


About the Author

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.

Are your Waste Transport Drivers Properly Trained under Ontario’s EPA?

Companies that hold an Environmental Compliance Approval (Waste Management System) for the transport of municipal waste, liquid industrial waste, or hazardous waste or are registered under the Environmental Activity Sector Register (EASR) for waste transport are required to have their drivers undergo specific environmental training.

Ontario’s General – Waste Regulation (Ontario Regulation 347) under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act ensures that wastes are effectively managed from the point of their generation to where they are ultimately processed or disposed of.  To provide this necessary control, the regulation includes definitions for different waste types and detailed requirements for a range of waste management activities.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation, and Parks (MOECP) Guideline for Training Requirements for Drivers of Waste Transportation Vehicles (Guideline C-12, PIBS 7914e01) provides information on environmental driver training related to the transport municipal waste, liquid industrial waste or hazardous waste.

The Guidelines outline the major areas that drivers of vehicles used for the transportation of municipal waste, liquid industrial waste or hazardous waste need to be trained on which includes:

  • The operation of the vehicle and waste management equipment,
  • Relevant waste management legislation, regulations and guidelines,
  • Major environmental concerns for the waste to be handled,
  • Occupational health and safety concerns for the waste to be handled, and
  • Emergency management procedures.

For more information on driver training requirements, contact John Nicholson, the editor of Hazmat Management Magazine.

Newest Guidance on Implementing Advanced Site Characterization Tools

The United States Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (ITRC) recently published their newest guidance document, Implementing Advanced Site Characterization Tools.  Advanced site characterization tools (ASCTs) are capable of rapid implementation and data generation and can be used to provide data for a more precise and accurate conceptual site model. Although these tools have been available for several years, they often are not used because users perceive them to be expensive and unavailable, or do not understand how ASCTs work and how to interpret the acquired data.

Over the past two years, a team of environmental experts worked together to create this comprehensive guidance to assist stakeholders with the selection and application of ASCTs, as well as the interpretation of data gathered by ASCTs to evaluate the best cleanup options for a project. The guidance divides ASCTs into four categories: Direct Sensing, Borehole Geophysical, Surface Geophysical, and Remote Sensing.

To support the selection and use of ASCTs, this free guidance includes:

  • An ASCT Selection Tool that provides an interactive dataset to identify appropriate tools for collecting geologic, hydrologic, and chemical data,
  • Summary Tables that provide additional information to evaluate the applicability of each tool,
  • Case Studies that provide examples of the use of tools at a site,
  • Checklists that provide information to be considered when planning to use a tool, describe typical content of a report, and identify appropriate quality control checks, and
  • Training Videos that provide an overview of the ASCT document and examples of the application of select tools.

Access the document by visiting https://asct-1.itrcweb.org/


About the U.S. ITRC

The Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (ITRC) is a state-led coalition working to reduce barriers to the use of innovative environmental technologies and approaches so that compliance costs are reduced and cleanup efficacy is maximized. ITRC produces documents and training that broaden and deepen technical knowledge and expedite quality regulatory decision making while protecting human health and the environment. With private and public sector members from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, ITRC truly provides a national perspective.

Hanna, Alberta interested in hosting Biomedical Waste Facility

The Town Council of Hanna, Alberta has expressed interest in the potential of a biomedical waste facility in the municipality.  As reported in the Hanna Herald, Council authorized Mayor Chris Warwick to provide a letter of support to GM Pearson regarding the Cactus Corridor Region interest in having the company establish a Biomedical Waste Incinerator Business in the region.

GM Pearson is an Alberta-based company that provides biomedical waste disposal services.  The company handles biomedical waste from its removal and transportation to its final, safe disposal. The company provides incineration and autoclaving at its Alberta Environmentally Approved facilities.

GM Pearson had proposed an 8,000 tonne per year biomedical waste incinerator in Beiseker, approximately 100-km west of Hanna, but it was met with fierce public opposition.  That plan fell through after the county denied the development permit, saying the site had insufficient infrastructure and water to service the proposed plant.

A human health study commissioned by the company and authored by Dr. Warren Kindzierski, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Alberta, states that while older studies about older incineration facilities do suggest evidence of health impacts to people who live near waste incinerators, recent studies suggest modern facilities don’t pose the same risk.  “Public concern about health risks is not justified for potential exposure to dioxins and furans and other chemical substances that are emitted by modern, well-run incinerators equipped with modern pollution control technologies,” the analysis reads.

The town has approximately 2,500 residents and is located in east-central Alberta.  If built, the incinerator has the potential ti create 22 full-time jobs, as well as contractor work, and provide tax revenue to the town. The mayor of Hanna, Chris Warrick, noted in a letter to GM Pearson that there are two sites within Special Areas that would be a good fit with the biomedical waste incinerator, as they met the zoning requirement, are in close proximity to major transportation corridors, are near utility infrastructure and regional landfills, and have compatible neighbouring land use.

U.S. EPA Issues the Latest Revision to the Risk Management Program (RMP) Chemical Release Rules

Written by Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP

The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (U.S. EPA’s) revised Risk Management Rules, designed to reduce the risk of the accidental release of hazardous chemicals, have been published in the Federal Register.  The citation to this action is 84 FR 69834 (December 19, 2019).  The rule is effective on December 19, 2019, but also provides for some staggered compliance dates for emergency response exercises and updating certain risk management plan provisions.  These revisions were triggered by EPA’s review of several petitions for reconsideration of EPA’s January 13, 2017 amendments to the rules set forth in 1996 at 40 CFR Part 68, which implemented the chemical accident preventions provisions required by Section 112 (r)  of the Clean Air Act.  Many of the 2017 requirements have been rescinded by this action.

On November 21, 2019, the U.S. EPA released a pre-publication copy of its Reconsideration of the revised Risk Management Program (RMP) Rules. In an accompanying statement, the agency noted that it has taken steps to “modify and improve” the existing rule to remove burdensome, costly and unnecessary requirements while maintaining appropriate protection (against accidental chemical releases) and ensuring responders have access to all of the necessary safety information. This action was taken in response to U.S. EPA’s January 13, 2017 revisions that significantly expanded the chemical release prevention provisions the existing RMP rules in the wake of the disastrous chemical plant explosion in West, Texas. The Reconsideration will take effect upon its publication in the Federal Register.

Background
As recounted by the D. C. Circuit in its August 2018 decision in the case of Air Alliance Houston, et al. v. EPA, in 1990, the Congress amended the Clean Air Act to force the regulation of hazardous air pollutants (see 42 USC Section 7412). An initial list of these hazardous air pollutants was also published, at Section 7412 (b). Section 112(r) (codified at 42 USC Section 7412 (r)), authorized the U.S. EPA to develop a regulatory program to prevent or minimize the consequences of a release of a listed chemical from a covered stationary source. The U.S. EPA was directed to propose and promulgate release prevention, detection, and correction requirements applicable to stationary sources (such as plants) that store or manage these regulated substances in amounts determined to be above regulated threshold quantities. The U.S. EPA promulgated these rules in 1996 (see 61 FR 31668). The rules, located at 40 CFR Part 68, contain several separate subparts devoted to hazard assessments, prevention programs, emergency response, accidental release prevention, the development and registration of a Risk Management Plan, and making certain information regarding the release publicly available.  The U.S. EPA notes that over 12.000 RMP plans have been filed with the agency.

In response to the catastrophe in at the West Plant, the U.S. EPA issued substantial amendments to these rules, covering accident prevention (expanding post-accident investigations, more rigorous safety audits, and enhanced safety training), revised emergency response requirements, and enhanced public information disclosure requirements. (See 82 FR 4594 (January 13, 2017).) However, the new administration at the U.S. EPA, following the submission of several petitions for reconsideration of these revised rules, issued a “Delay Rule” on June 14, 2017, which would have extended the effective date of the January 2107 rules until February 19, 2019. On August 17, 2018, the Delay Rule was rejected and vacated by the D.C. Circuit in the aforementioned Air Alliance case (see 906 F. 3d 1049 (DC Circuit 2018)), which had the effect of making the hotly contested January 2017 RMP revisions immediately effective.

Reconsidering the January 2017 Revision
On May 30, 2018, the U.S. EPA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (see 83 FR 24850) to reconsider the reinstated RMP revisions and amendments, and the agency has now decided the issues raised in this rulemaking. Basically, it appears that the U.S. EPA is returning the rules to their pre-January 2017 stage and format. Over the years, these rules have been amended with some frequency, and the agency argues that these actions have all been discretionary once it finalized the basic 1996 version. Accordingly, it is acting well within its discretion to revise and rescind large portions of the 2017 amendments. Obviously, this is a complex regulatory program, but here are some highlights. The 2017 revisions to the Risk Management Program have been rescinded regarding safer technologies and alternatives analysis, third-party audits, incident investigations, and information availability. The U.S. EPA is also modifying regulations relating to local emergency coordination, emergency response exercises, compliance dates and public meetings. In addition, “this action rescinds almost all the requirements added in 2017 to accident prevention program provisions,” including again third-party audits. No longer will incident investigations be required to include a “root cause analysis,” or to consider a “near miss” that never resulted in an accidental release. The emergency response amendments are modified to allow facilities to share only that technical information necessary to implement the local emergency response plan. The agency and many commenters were concerned that the earlier rule risked the exposure of national security information. However, some of the 2107 changes to required public meetings have been retained. Finally, the U.S. EPA will establish new compliance dates to reflect these actions.

In the preamble, the U.S. EPA recognizes that the spate of recent chemical plant incidents has created concerns with these topsy-turvy regulatory proceedings. The agency points out that in several well publicized cases, these rules would not even have been applicable because the chemical release at issue was not a substance listed as a hazardous air pollutant in the statute or the implementing regulation, or in threshold quantities. Also, in the West fire and explosion, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) believes that the cause was not an accident, but a deliberate act. Finally, the U.S. EPA argues that it is unfair to burden all covered plants with a complicated and costly regulatory program when it is clear to the agency that only a handful of chemical plants are the source of the great majority of complaints.

What’s Next?
With revised Risk Management Rules now published in the Federal Register, these actions will likely be subject to another judicial challenge. The U.S. EPA has made a strong case that it is acting well within its statutory authority and consistent with the Administrative Procedure Act. However, the challenges will be serious and substantial.

This article has been republished with the permission of the author.  It was first posted on the Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP website.


About the Author

Anthony B. Cavender provides guidance and counseling relating to enforcement and compliance.  He has represented clients in Superfund matters, and in RCRA and Clean Water Act enforcement proceedings.  He is a Senior Counsel in the firm’s Houston office and a member of the Environmental & Natural Resources practice section. His practice focuses on the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Superfund. Before joining Pillsbury, Anthony was a member of the legal department of Pennzoil Co., specializing in these areas as well as general corporate legal matters. He served on various energy industry committees and trade associations.

Ontario: Wind up of Municipal Hazardous or Special Waste Program

On November 21, the Ontario Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (RPRA) closed a 45-day consultation period on Stewardship Ontario’s proposed Municipal Hazardous or Special Waste (MHSW) Program Wind-Up Plan. RPRA held two webinars and five in-person sessions across the Province to solicit feedback from interested stakeholders. The Authority has been directed to approve the proposed Wind-Up Plan no later than December 31, 2019.

The MHSW Program allows Ontario residents to safely dispose of household products that require special handling, such as single-use batteries and propane tanks. Industry stewardship organizations are responsible for recovering additional hazardous waste products, including automotive materials; paints and coatings; pesticides, solvents and fertilizers; and proprietary carbon dioxide cylinders.

Background

In April 2018, the then Ontario Minister of the Environment and Climate Change directed the wind up of the MHSW Program on December 31, 2020 as per the Waste Diversion Transition Act, 2016. Following wind up, hazardous or special materials will transition to the new, mandatory individual producer responsibility (IPR) framework under the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act, 2016.

In December 2018, the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) amended the timeline for the wind up of the single-use batteries component of the MHSW Program to June 30, 2020.

In July 2019, the Minister issued new directions including extending the timeline to wind up the MHSW Program to June 30, 2021; the Batteries Program wind up remains June 30, 2020.

Stewardship Ontario submitted its proposed MHSW Wind-Up Plan to the Authority by the September 30, 2019 deadline set by the Minister. As part of the wind-up process, the Minister directed the Authority to consult on the proposed plan before considering approval. As directed by the Minister, the Authority anticipates its approval of the plan by the end of the year.

MHSW Program wind up

Until the wind-up date, the MHSW Program will continue to operate without disruption. This includes the operation of the industry stewardship plans managed by the Automotive Materials Stewardship, Product Care Association, and SodaStream.

Single Use Batteries

The Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks has directed Stewardship Ontario to wind up the program for single-use batteries on June 30, 2020. This change will allow for a coordinated policy approach with the wind up of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Program.

 

 

 

Urgent Canadian Action is needed on PFAS — the Forever Chemicals

Written by Bev Thorpe and Fe de Leon for the Canadian Environmental Law Association

The class of chemicals called PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) are often referred to as ‘the forever chemicals’ because they are highly persistent in the environment and will take hundreds if not thousands of years to disappear from the soil and groundwater where they accumulate.  The Netflix film, The Devil We Know, and the newly released film, Dark Waters, have brought these chemicals to popular awareness.  As we now know, two substances in this chemical class – PFOS and PFOS – are the focus of multi-million dollar lawsuits due to the cover up of data demonstrating health impacts such as increased cholesterol, kidney cancer, testicular cancer, low birth rates, thyroid disease, and weakened immunity.  Over 99% of all Canadians tested by Health Canada’s biomonitoring surveys, have PFOA and PFOS in their blood and other organs including communities in the far north.  Producers of PFOS and PFOA voluntarily stopped production in 2002 resulting in a slight decrease of these two PFAS in sampled populations, but other PFAS are now turning up in Canadians. Yet the Canadian regulatory response to this crisis is lacking urgency and transparent communication with impacted communities.

PFAS is widely present because  for over sixty years these chemicals have been used as stain, oil and water repellant chemicals in  clothing, carpets, grease-proof paper, ski wax, cookware and cosmetics and also widely used in firefighting foam and other industrial applications.  Their widespread use raises the question why it took so long to highlight the risk to human health and wildlife and why regulatory response has been so slow.  This is partly because scientists lacked the analytical capability to measure these chemicals in the environment until recently.  At the same time, PFAS, as with thousands of chemicals were historically allowed on the market with no toxicological screening requirements.  Even today, most new  PFAS, which industry is now switching to as replacements for PFOA and PFOS, lack full toxicological data yet they remain unregulated and on the market.

In Canada most uses for PFOS were prohibited in 2016 aside from exemptions for specific uses.  In 2012, the federal government concluded that PFOA was an ecological concern. But Health Canada maintains that PFOS and PFOA are not a concern for human health at current levels of exposure.  Most recently in June 2019 Transport Canada allowed airports to use PFAS-free firefighting foam, which shows a more precautionary approach as it targets the whole class of PFAS, but this is only a start.  There are over 5,000 PFAS in use and they are just as persistent in the environment as PFOS and PFOA, with many known to be highly mobile in rivers, lakes and groundwater.  None of these are restricted in Canada.

For Canadian adults, our main exposure to PFAS is via household dust, ingestion of food and air – in fact studies of air in Vancouver homes found levels of PFAS were twenty times higher than air outside the homes due to PFAS inside the homes.  Children, infants and toddlers are most at risk from PFAS exposure due to hand-to-mouth contact with PFAS treated products.  In addition, Canadian research has demonstrated PFAS in the leachate and air of landfill sites, due to the amount of PFAS in the clothing, carpets and consumer goods that have been discarded into landfills over the years and which are now leaching these chemicals into the environment.  PFAS are found in the air and effluent from wastewater treatment sites as well as in the sewage sludge which can be spread on land.

If this situation seems worrying, it is.  We lack full transparency of where contamination sites are in Canada and full accountability for who is responsible for the cleanup. Remediation is expensive and technically challenging which may partly explain such inaction.  The region downstream of Hamilton airport has still not been cleaned up eight years after high levels of PFAS contamination were discovered.  The extent of contamination in Canada is difficult to know, unlike the disclosure afforded to US citizens by many US state regulatory bodies.  The use of PFAS in firefighting foam at military bases, airports and refineries is increasingly acknowledged to be a common source of  water contamination but public information is absent on site specific monitoring data or even if groundwater wells are being monitored.  In December 2018 Health Canada released Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines for PFOS and PFOA which are substantially weaker than US based guidelines and to date British Columbia is the only Canadian province to establish provincial drinking water regulations.

We urgently need to see federal and provincial governments take action to phase out the entire class of PFAS in consumer and industrial use; strengthen Canadian drinking water standards to be more protective of children’s health and radically increase public right to know about the presence of PFAS in consumer products, local drinking water, and discharges into our communities. Tackling these forever chemicals requires an informed and coordinated public response which has sadly been lacking to date.

This article has been republished with the permission of the authors.  It was first published on the CELA website.


About the Authors

Bev Thorpe is an environmental consultant and principle author of CELA’s reports on PFAS.  Bev works with advocacy networks, companies and governments to advance an economy without the harm of hazardous chemicals.  She is a long time member of the Coming Clean network in the USA and she works with European and Asian networks.

Fe de Leon is a researcher with the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) and has worked extensively on toxic substances particularly in the Great Lakes Basin, on the federal chemicals management plan and on international efforts to address persistent toxic substances through the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, the Great Lakes Quality Agreement, and a global treaty to address mercury.

Environmental Liability Policies: The Extent Of Coverage

Written by Robert Emblem, Partner and Gabrielle Dumas-Aubin, Senior Associate, Clyde & Co

The authors wish to thank Raphaëlle Dussault for her contribution to the article

Soil contamination can expose landowners and businesses to significant liability. But Clyde & Co recently secured a Quebec ruling that demonstrates they should not assume that environmental liability insurance policies offer blanket protections against environmental risks. Indeed, there are significant differences between the types of coverage that they can offer.

In its judgment, in Paquet & Fils Ltée the Quebec Superior Court ruled on the applicability of an environmental cleanup and liability insurance policy for storage tanks. The defendants, a pool of insurers, issued the policy to the plaintiff, Paquet & Fils Ltée, a distributor of petroleum products, for its gas station located in Saint-Damien-de-Buckland, Quebec.

This lawsuit came about following the plaintiff’s discovery of contaminated soils at its gas station. The plaintiff had not conducted environmental testing when it acquired the site, nor when it dismantled the gas station.

It presented a claim to the Encon Group Inc. (which was acting as an insurance manager for the defendants) under the policy for the cost of decontamination. Encon denied coverage on the grounds that the plaintiff did not prove that the source of contamination originated from a storage tank leak during the period of insurance, as required under the policy.

The plaintiff sued the defendants contesting the denial of coverage, claiming that by taking such a position, the defendants never assumed any risk under the policy. It also argued that the defendants have been acting in bad faith when they initially issued the policy and following the receipt of its notice of claim. In particular, the plaintiff asserted that before issuing the policy, the defendants should have investigated the risk further instead of relying on the plaintiff’s statements. The plaintiff also argued that the defendants failed to advise it of the importance of identifying the source and age of the contamination. Finally, had it not been for the defendants’ late denial, the plaintiff claimed, it could have resumed its commercial activities at the site without having to decontaminate it.

Clyde & Co lawyers responded for the defendants that they were justified in denying coverage since the plaintiff failed to demonstrate, on a balance of probabilities, the existence of a “release,” within the meaning of the policy, during the period of insurance.

Initial comments

The court began by reviewing general interpretation principles for insurance policies. It explained that it was up to the insured first to establish that the claimed damage or loss falls within the initial grant of coverage. Following that, the insurer could prove that an exclusion applied. The court also noted that when the policy is unambiguous, it should give effect to clear language, reading the contract as a whole.

The court added that the insured could meet its onus by any means, including a presumption of fact, provided that it is serious, precise and concordant. That said, it notes that a presumption of fact cannot be deduced from a pure hypothesis, vague suspicions or mere conjecture. The court concluded that no presumption of fact was of assistance to the plaintiff in this case.

Policy triggers

The court explained that for coverage to be triggered under the policy, the plaintiff must prove, among other things, (1) the source of the contamination (i.e. a “release” originating from a “storage tank system”) and (2) the age of the contamination (i.e. started on or after the “retroactive date” specified in the policy).

It emphasized that the policy only covers a “release” originating from a “storage tank system” as opposed to one that occurs in the context of the plaintiff’s operations. Reviewing expert opinions and testimony, it indicated that it could not reasonably infer that a “release” had occurred. Even the plaintiff’s expert could not exclude that the plaintiff’s operations might have been the source of the contamination.

The court noted that no one had noticed or recorded a leak or any irregularity, which might suggest that a leak originated from a storage tank during the coverage period (on or after the “retroactive date”). In particular, it stressed that none of the experts could determine when precisely the contamination happened or how recently.

The court concluded that, in the absence of serious, precise and concordant facts proving that a release started during the period of coverage, the plaintiff could not demand that the defendants pay for the decontamination.

Illusory coverage and the insurers’ failure to investigate

The court also rejected the argument that the defendants never actually covered any risk. If, during the policy period, the plaintiff had observed a leak originating from its “storage tank system,” had conducted a proper investigation as required by the policy, and notified the defendants, there is no reason why coverage would have been denied.

The court also found that the defendants had no obligation to collect additional information to assess the risk at the time of the application for insurance. It made a distinction between the present matter and the case where the defendants would seek to cancel the policy for misrepresentation or non-disclosure of the material facts that affected their acceptance of the risk or setting the premium.

As for the allegations of bad faith, the court noted that the claims adjuster advised the plaintiff early on that, in the absence of an investigation establishing a “release,” coverage could be denied. The claims adjuster had also asked for additional information related to the source and age of the contamination. What’s more, the court concluded that the plaintiff did not demonstrate the seriousness of its alleged intention to resume its commercial activities. As a result, the defendants did not act in bad faith.

Takeaway

Ultimately, it is the insured’s responsibility to conduct environmental testing, in particular when acquiring a property, applying for an insurance policy or before dismantling facilities. These tests could be crucial to determine whether and to what extent coverage is available under an environmental liability policy. The plaintiff has not appealed the judgment.

This article has been republished with the permission of the authors.  It it was originally published on the Clyde & Co website.


About the Authors

Robert Emblem, Partner

Having worked on secondment with a leading Lloyd’s syndicate in the mid-1990s, Bob has also developed a large insurance coverage and defense practice. He represents insurers, reinsurers and insureds in the areas of commercial general liability, professional liability, media/technology liability, directors’ and officers’ liability, fidelity, contingency and property insurance. In addition to providing coverage and regulatory advice to insurers and reinsurers, he regularly performs policy wording reviews and claims audits.

Bob is a member of both the Ontario and Quebec bars, has wide-ranging experience in both the Common Law and civil law systems, and is fluently bilingual in English and French. Bob regularly appears before all levels of the Quebec courts as well as arbitration and mediation panels throughout North America.

Bob is one of the leading experts in Canada in the area of course of construction insurance and co-authored Commercial General Liability Insurance published by Butterworths. He speaks regularly at conferences and delivers papers for the Barreau du Québec, the Canadian Institute, the Canadian Bar Association, Insight, Canadian Defence Lawyers, the Insurance Bureau of Canada and other organizations.

Gabrielle Dumas-Aubin, Senior Associate

Gabrielle joined Clyde & Co in 2016, where she provides advices on managing and monitoring claims and insurance coverage for Canadian and foreign insurers. Gabrielle analyzes complex claims and draws up legal opinions on professional liability and general liability risks.

She graduated from the University of Ottawa with the honorary mention summa cum laude. During her studies, Gabrielle received numerous scholarships and was a research assistant for various professors. She completed her studies with a master’s degree in law at Oxford University in 2014.  Gabrielle is a member of the Young Bar Association of Montreal and of the Bar of Quebec in 2013.

Ontario Government Proposes new rules around Administrative Monetary Penalties

The Ontario government recently proposed amendments to regulations dealing with Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMPs) under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act.  The reason given for the proposed amendments was that they would remove regulatory overlap and result in regulations that are focused and streamlined.

An AMP is a financial penalty for non-compliance that provides an incentive to the violator to return to compliance and deter future non-compliance.  Administrative penalties are used across the Government of Ontario in regulated program areas such as forestry, consumer protection, energy, and waste diversion.

Deficiency in the Existing AMPs

AMPs are regularly used in other jurisdictions, particularly Canada and the United States, to support the enforcement of environmental laws (e.g. British Columbia, Alberta, Canada, Quebec, Ohio, Vermont and Minnesota).

AMPs, as a compliance and enforcement tool (i.e. environmental penalties), are currently available to the Ontario Environment Ministry for some land, water and air violations, but are limited in scope. This gap leaves many program areas with limited enforcement tools and affects the ministry’s ability to effectively hold polluters accountable.  In addition, some of the acts proposed to be amended that are enforced by the Ontario Environment Ministry do not have the enabling authority to issue administrative monetary penalties (e.g. Safe Drinking Water ActPesticides Act), while others are out of step with best practice (e.g. Nutrient Management Act, 2002).

Jeff Yurek, Ontario Environment Minister

Proposed Amendments

The are proposed legislative amendments expand and/or clarify enabling authority to issue administrative monetary penalties for environmental violations under key environmental statutes, including:

  • Nutrient Management Act, 2002
  • Ontario Water Resources Act
  • Pesticides Act
  • Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002

The proposed amendments would enable administrative monetary penalties to be issued for a broad range of environmental violations under the acts mentioned above. To take effect, violations that may be subject to an administrative monetary penalty would be prescribed in regulation.

The proposal, along with recent amendments to the Environmental Protection Act, would replace existing monetary penalties (i.e. environmental penalties) under the Environmental Protection Act and Ontario Water Resources Act.

Key provisions under the proposed administrative monetary penalty approach are set out under each act and include:

  • set maximum penalty amounts or higher if the economic benefit achieved via the violation was higher (penalty amounts would be set by a regulation). The maximum penalty amounts set in the acts are as follows:
    1. Ontario Water Resources Act – $200,000 per contravention (same as the Environmental Protection Act)
    2. Pesticides Act – $100,000 per contravention
    3. Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002 – $100,000 per contravention
    4. Nutrient Management Act, 2002 – $10,000 per contravention
  • ability to review and/or appeal the administrative penalty
  • an annual report listing the administrative penalties issued in the last calendar year
  • provisions to enable the implementation of administrative monetary penalties in regulation (e.g. how to set administrative monetary penalty amounts, who they can apply to, and how violators can seek reductions in penalty amounts for taking action to prevent or mitigate the contravention

The government argues that the broader use of AMPs would help it take strong action against illegal activity, ensure that polluters are accountable for their actions, and deal with environmental violations that do occur, more efficiently and appropriately.  Prosecution would continue to be used as an enforcement tool but may be limited to serious violations.

If passed, these proposed legislative amendments would allow for future regulations to implement administrative monetary penalties to more violations, such as, but not limited to:

  • illegal sewage discharges into waterways
  • selling pesticides without a license
  • failing to have a certified drinking water operator
  • violating terms of a permit to take water

Criticism of the Proposal

Environmental activists decried the proposal and charged that it will result in lightened consequences for polluters.  Keith Brooks, spokesperson for Environmental Defence, stated in press release, “It is highly deceptive of the Ontario government to claim that it is doing more to hold polluters accountable, when they are actually cutting the penalties polluters face.”

The environment critic from the Ontario New Democratic Party, Ian Arthur, an MPP for Kingston and the Islands, stated: “The Ford government has proposed eliminating an existing $100,000-per-day penalty for environmental polluters and replacing it with a one-off fine of $10,000. Further, the government is pushing to cap environmental fines at an overall maximum of $200,000.”

 

Nova Scotia’s Auditor General Concerned about Mine Contamination

In a recent report issued by Nova Scotia’s Auditor says more work needs to be done to address contaminated mine sites throughout the province.

“I drew attention to this accounting because the cost to clean up the province’s contaminated sites could significantly change in the future as the province collects more information on these sites,” Michael Pickup, Nova Scotia’s Auditor General said.

This was the first year the report drew attention to accounting for contaminated sites. The report showed that contaminated site liabilities increased to $372 million in 2019 compared to $107 million five years ago.

According to Pickup’s report, the Department of Lands and Forestry’s investigations of contamination at abandoned mine sites is lacking, leaving a risk of unknown financial, ecological and human health concerns. The report also found an additional 63 mine sites with no liability for remediation because the contamination extent is unknown.

Historical Gold Mining Area Map for Nova Scotia

“Those sorts of legacy sites, unfortunately, date from a period in which there really wasn’t environmental science and people just didn’t have a good understanding of our impact on the environment,” says Sean Kirby, the Executive Director of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia.