November 27, 2013
Last week, the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (“GAHP”) released a report examining laws governing the remediation of contaminated properties in seven Latin America countries, as well as the United States, and identifying best practices. The report, entitled “Regulatory Best Practices for Remediation of Legacy Toxic Contamination,” was produced by the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice. The Blacksmith Institute, a nonprofit focused on global toxic pollution issues which serves as the secretariat for the GAHP, also assisted in the production of the report.
SPR attorneys Jeff Gracer and Devin McDougall served as United States Coordinating Counsel for the report.
The six recommendations identified in the report are:
1. Create clear numeric guidelines for establishing whether a site is contaminated. Although contaminated sites are often defined as sites where pollution is present at levels that may present a threat to human health and the environment, it is useful to enact regulations that specifically define what those levels are, so that sites can be readily identified as candidates for further investigation and remediation.
2. Use commercial events to identify contaminated sites. Evaluation of historic contamination can be required when project proponents are applying for permits, and when industrial facilities are being bought and sold or decommissioned. These triggers will result in the identification of contaminated sites at a time when funding for investigation and remediation is most likely to be available.
3. Create incentives for voluntary remediation. Laws and regulations should make it easy for private parties to come forward on a voluntary basis to address legacy contamination. These incentives can include resolution of existing liability for site owners, liability exemptions for prospective purchasers, tax exemptions and tax credits, remediation funding grants, and other governmental incentives.
4. Create a clear and efficient remediation process. One of the most significant barriers to environmental cleanup is the uncertainty surrounding applicable cleanup standards, the complexity of the process, and the involvement of multiple governmental agencies with overlapping jurisdiction. Experience has shown that published cleanup standards, a simple process for engagement with the government, and clear delineations of which agency has jurisdiction over a particular cleanup will encourage increased private sector participation.
5. Provide meaningful opportunities for public review and comment. Environmental remediation regulations and practices often benefit from input from members of the business community who will be called upon to effectuate cleanups and also by members of communities who live in close proximity to contaminated sites. Site remediation plans may also be more pragmatic and tailored to actual risk if they are subject to prior public review and comment.
6. Develop effective mechanisms to address abandoned sites. Sites that are not subject to commercial activity or voluntary remediation can be the most troublesome from a governmental perspective. Governments should consider creating a registry of such sites so that they can be identified for investigation and evaluated as candidates for future remediation. Sites should be prioritized for clean-up based on a clear methodology established by the government to address those that pose the greatest risk first. Government funding can be made available to remediate such sites through a combination of lawsuits against former owners and operators or, if no responsible party can be reached, through other mechanism for funding in appropriate cases. Future “orphan” sites can be avoided by requiring environmentally sensitive operations to purchase environmental insurance policies.
For more information about the development of remediation policies in Latin America, please contact Jeff Gracer.
November 15, 2013
The Division of Environmental Remediation of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has released its 2012-2013 Annual Report, noting key developments of the past State Fiscal Year (April 1, 2012 – March 31, 2013).
As reflected in the Annual Report, DEC’s environmental remediation programs affect many businesses across the state. For example, in the 2012-2013 State Fiscal Year, there were more than 18,000 actions that required intervention by the Division of Environmental Remediation; additionally, DEC had jurisdiction over 109,000 petroleum bulk storage tanks and 4,600 chemical bulk storage tanks.
Key developments discussed in the annual report include the following:
Brownfield Cleanup Program:
The past year saw an uptick in the number of projects approved to enter the state Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP). In the past State Fiscal Year, 45 projects were approved, with 29% of these projects located in New York City. In prior reporting cycles since 2007, that number has ranged from 28-34. The increase in approved applications likely reflects the race to qualify for tax credits under the BCP, which are being phased out and will not be available for parties that do not receive their BCP Certificate of Completion by the end of 2015.
State Superfund Program
DEC’s authorization to bond new funds for the State Superfund Program has expired. DEC can use appropriations from prior years and cost recoveries to support the program. DEC received $12.1 million in cost recovery revenue in the past State Fiscal Year.
In the past State Fiscal Year, 13 “Class 2” sites, which are deemed to pose a significant threat to human health and/or the environment and require action, were added to State’s Inactive Hazardous Waste Site Registry. This number represents a decline from prior years; there had been at least 19 new Class 2 listings annually from the 2006-2007 through 2011-2012 State Fiscal Years.
Environmental Restoration Program
Funding for DEC’s Environmental Restoration Program, which reimburses municipalities for brownfield cleanup and redevelopment, has been revived: “Under the Cuomo administration’s New York Works capital infrastructure program, the 2013/2014 New York State Budget included $12 million which DER will use to complete cleanup of projects where funding had previously not been available.” New applicants to the program had not been approved since 2008 due to lack of funding.
Bulk Storage Program:
Revisions to the state’s Petroleum Bulk Storage and Chemical Bulk Storage regulations are under way, pursuant to a two-phase public participation process. In Phase One, initial informal draft revisions reflecting changes in federal law were released for public comment. Phase Two comprises the release of formal drafts and the acceptance of public comments thereon; the formal drafts would account for further changes in state and federal law and are expected to be issued in the 2014-2015 State Fiscal Year.
Liquefied Natural Gas:
DEC has proposed new regulations for the siting, storage and transport of liquefied natural gas in New York State. The agency expects to finalize and promulgate the regulations in the present State Fiscal Year. Public comments on the proposed regulations are being accepted until December 4, 2013.
Draft revisions to DEC’s regulations on the prevention and control of radioactive material are expected to be released in the present State Fiscal Year. New regulations establishing cleanup criteria for remediation of radioactive contaminated sites are also expected in the present State Fiscal Year.
Vapor Intrusion Initiative:
DEC identified 421 sites to be evaluated for vapor intrusion, where a remedial plan had been approved before vapor intrusion was recognized as a major concern. As of March 2013, 318 of these sites have been evaluated and 108 sites are undergoing such evaluation.
Former Manufactured Gas Plants Initiative:
As of March 2013, DEC has issued or entered into cleanup orders or agreements for 213 of 221 identified former manufactured gas plant facilities.
For more information on the Division of Environmental Remediation’s programs, please contact Michael Lesser.
November 8, 2013
On November 6, 2013, ASTM released its updated E1527-13 Standard for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process, a standard that EPA has identified in a proposed rule as a means of satisfying the definition of “all appropriate inquiries” (AAI) under CERCLA, as needed to establish certain defenses to liability. According to ASTM, the standard was revised to clarify language where there was previously inconsistency in interpretation of the prior version of the standard (ASTM E1527-05) and to strengthen Phase I reports prepared by environmental professionals. Major changes from the previous version of the standard, released in 2005, include:
- Changes in the definition of Recognized Environmental Condition (REC): The new standard includes a simplified definition of REC, a revised definition of historic recognized environmental condition (HREC) and a new term, controlled recognized environmental condition (CREC)
- Additional requirements for review of public agency records, including the requirement that additional information sources (such as Sanborn maps and tax files) be reviewed for properties with historical industrial or manufacturing uses
- Vapor intrusion: the new standard adds a definition of “migrate/migration” which includes the movement of vapor in the subsurface, and clarifies that vapor migration/intrusion does not fall under the rubric of indoor air quality (which, like asbestos and radon, is outside the scope of a Phase I assessment).
The new standard does not resolve certain state- and locality- specific questions raised by record review requirements, including whether certain types of environmental records are considered “readily ascertainable” and thus part of a Phase I review. For instance, in New Jersey and Connecticut, records related to the environmental remediation of a property were previously publicly available but are now held by private consultants (“licensed site remediation professionals” (LSRPs) in New Jersey and “licensed environmental professionals” (LEPs) in Connecticut).
In contrast, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced this week that it would post online its information related to 1,950 remedial sites with non-registry “P,” “PR,” and “N” designations, making it easier for New York environmental consultants conducting Phase I assessments to quickly access these records. (More information about those types of site designations can be found here.) Such state-to-state variations in agency record review highlight the importance of having AAI review conducted by an environmental professional with a detailed understanding of the local environmental regulatory regime for a given property.
The new E1527-13 standard is part of a continuum of evolving environmental due diligence practice. The new standard is an important milestone, but there are likely to be important changes and interpretations as the standard begins to be implemented in practice. For more information on the ASTM standard, AAI, Phase I reports or environmental due diligence, please contact Christine Leas.
November 6, 2013
On October 24, 2013, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) announced the availability of a new annotated table of Permissible Exposure Limits (“PELs”) for chemicals in the workplace, along with alternative standards that “may serve to better protect workers” than the existing federal limits. OSHA has, in the past, issued regulations establishing mandatory PELs for various chemicals, but most of these regulatory standards have not been updated since they were first issued decades ago. According to its October 24 press release, OSHA now believes that many of the regulatory PELs are out of date and do not sufficiently protect employee health.
Rather than issue new regulations, OSHA is recommending that employers consider using the alternative PELs presented in the new annotated PEL tables. These tables present, side by side, OSHA’s existing regulatory PEL, the PEL established by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (“Cal/OSHA“), the Recommended Exposure Limits (“RELs”) established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (“NIOSH“), and the Threshold Limit Values (“TLVs”) and Biological Exposure Indices (“BEIs”) established by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (“ACGIH“).
The alternative standards are generally more stringent than OSHA’s PELs. For example, the OSHA PEL for perchloroethylene (PCE) is 100 parts per million, while the Cal/OSHA PEL and the ACGIH TLV for PCE are both 25 parts per million.
Even though the alternative PELs are not federally enforceable, they may encourage state regulators to adopt the stricter exposure limits. Even without official state adoption of the stricter exposure limits, OSHA’s endorsement of those limits could encourage regulators to press for more stringent cleanup standards at contaminated sites, and could broaden the scope of conditions recognized as problematic in Phase I and Phase II due diligence reviews. OSHA’s recognition of the stricter exposure limits could also increase pressure on employers to adopt stricter voluntary standards for chemical exposure in the workplace. As recently discussed on our blog, similar consequences could follow from other agencies’ actions with respect to chemical exposure, such as the New York State Department of Health’s recently-issued guidance revising the maximum recommended concentration of PCE in indoor air to 30 mcg/m3, or 4.4 parts per billion.
OSHA’s new annotated PEL tables are accessible here. For more information, contact Christine Leas.
November 1, 2013
In a recent Advisory Opinion, the State Department of Taxation and Finance (DTF) opined that a taxpayer may not claim tax credits under the site preparation credit component of the Brownfield Redevelopment Tax Credit more than five years after the site received a Certificate of Completion (COC) under the Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP). This interpretation is consistent with statutory language. However, its implications may cause difficulties for property developers who intend to build multiple buildings on remediated property on a staged timeline, and raises questions about the availability of tax credits for post-COC costs.
The taxpayer who requested the Advisory Opinion was considering purchasing property which had already been remediated to the satisfaction of the Department of Environmental Conservation and for which a COC had been issued, but for which additional environmental cleanup would be necessary to prepare the property for its intended use as an industrial manufacturing facility. The additional cleanup would occur more than five years after the issuance of the COC.
Section 21(b)(2) of the Tax Law defines “site preparation costs” to include remediation, excavation, demolition, and other costs related to preparing a site for future development. The statute divides such costs into two categories:
(i) costs incurred in connection with a site’s qualification for a COC, and
(ii) all other costs incurred in connection with preparing the site for a building or other improvement or otherwise to establish the site as usable for its intended purpose.
Section 21(a)(2) provides that category (i) costs may be claimed in the tax year in which the COC is issued, whereas category (ii) costs may be claimed in the tax year in which the improvement to which the costs apply is placed in service, for up to five taxable years after the issuance of the COC. The post-COC remediation expenditures at issue in the advisory opinion appear to fit the definition of category (ii) site preparation costs.
The advisory opinion concludes, “[m]ore than five years have passed since the COC was issued, so the taxpayer is not allowed to claim the site preparation credit component.”
The advisory opinion does not address why the taxpayer claimed the costs at issue under the site preparation component in the first place. It is unclear why the taxpayer could not include those costs in determining its cost basis for the industrial facility and claim them under the qualified tangible property (QTP) component of the Brownfield Redevelopment Tax Credit set forth in Section 21(a)(3) of the Tax Law. QTP credits apply to qualified tangible property such as personal property, buildings, and structural building components, and may be claimed for the years in which such property is placed in service on the site, for up to ten years after the issuance of the COC.
Although this issue is not addressed in the Advisory Opinion, the statute is not entirely clear as to how to treat costs that may be characterized as either site preparation costs or QTP costs. Tax Law section 21(b)(2) states that site preparation costs cannot be qualified tangible property costs. Clearly, this provision prevents double counting under both credit components. But it does not specify whether costs that meet the statutory definition of either component must be claimed as one or the other.
One reasonable interpretation is that the statute’s provisions regarding category (ii) site preparation costs are primarily directed at remediation that is conducted prior to the COC. Post-COC costs that are directly related to an improvement would be claimed under the QTP Component, even if the time to claim the site preparation component has passed.
For more information on this Advisory Opinion or about the Brownfield Redevelopment Tax Credit, please contact Paul Casowitz.
May 6, 2013
On April 16, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) took a significant step towards finalizing its long-pending guidance on the evaluation and response to vapor intrusion from contaminated soil and groundwater, releasing an updated draft of the guidance for public comment. The guidance, which EPA first released in draft form in 2002, is anticipated to have significant impacts for the owners, operators, and potential purchasers of sites contaminated by solvents, petroleum, and other volatile organic compounds (“VOCs”), as well as any parties responsible for such contamination.
What sites are at risk of vapor intrusion?
Vapor intrusion, the migration of hazardous vapor from contaminated soil or groundwater into buildings, is of greatest concern at sites contaminated by VOCs , such as the chlorinated solvents perchloroethylene (“PCE” or “Perc”) and trichloroethylene (“TCE”), as well gasoline constituents. Vapor can enter a building because of cracks in the foundation, openings around pipes or electrical wires, and heating and ventilation systems that decrease indoor air pressure, creating conditions that draw in vapor.
How have environmental regulators addressed vapor intrusion in the past?
In response to new evidence of human health risks and potential explosion hazards from vapor intrusion, EPA released draft vapor intrusion guidance under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) and Resource Recovery and Conservation Act (“RCRA”) in 2002. At the time, EPA stated that “as the state-of-the-science improves, this guidance will be revised as appropriate.”
Over the following decade, however, the draft guidance was neither finalized nor revised, and individual states began to fill the regulatory gaps left by EPA. New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”) and Department of Health issued their own vapor intrusion guidance, and DEC began a formal re-evaluation of hundreds of contaminated sites – many of which had already been remediated and delisted – for new vapor risks. In December 2009, EPA’s Inspector General reported that the absence of final EPA guidance had “[impeded] EPA’s efforts to protect human health at sites where vapor intrusion risks may occur,” and urged EPA to finalize its 2002 draft.
What changes did EPA propose in its revised vapor intrusion guidance?
In response to the Inspector General report, last month EPA released a pre-publication draft of its final vapor intrusion guidance for public review and comment. The updated document incorporates a number of revisions from the 2002 draft, including:
- A new, online calculator for determining generic and site-specific screening levels –contaminant concentrations where vapor intrusion is believed to present risk and additional investigation or mitigation is warranted;
- New recommendations for preemptive mitigation and early action at certain sites before a full vapor intrusion analysis is complete;
- New guidance on the use of deed restrictions and other institutional controls to restrict land uses or activities that could otherwise result in unacceptable exposure to the vapor intrusion pathway
- A separate guidance document addressing petroleum vapor intrusion from underground storage tanks, which was not covered in EPA’s 2002 guidance.
Who is likely to be impacted by EPA’s new guidance?
EPA’s guidance is specifically addressed to sites being evaluated pursuant to CERCLA and RCRA, and it is expected to influence the scope of remedial investigations, risk assessments, and remedy selection at such sites. Moreover, because many CERCLA sites where remediation is complete must undergo five-year reviews for remedial effectiveness, consideration of vapor intrusion could reveal new public health risks and trigger additional mitigation requirements.
The guidance will also have impacts extending beyond CERCLA and RCRA. Vapor intrusion is an increasingly common topic in environmental due diligence for real estate transactions, and Phase I Environmental Site Investigations often analyze possible vapor intrusion pathways. EPA’s new screening levels and recommended mitigation measures are likely to inform negotiating positions and risk allocation at sites where vapor intrusion is suspected. Vapor intrusion could also give rise to toxic tort liability, with plaintiffs relying upon EPA guidance and other regulatory standards to establish a violation of the defendant’s standard of care. Finally, because vapor intrusion may impose new costs at previously-remediated sites, the guidance could lead more property owners to pursue “reopener” environmental insurance policies covering expenses incurred after a “No Further Action” or “Construction Complete” letter has been issued by state or federal environmental regulators.
How can I submit comments on EPA’s new guidance?
Comments on EPA’s revised vapor intrusion guidance may be submitted online at http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=EPA-HQ-RCRA-2002-0033 through May 24, 2013.
For more information about EPA’s guidance or other issues relating to vapor intrusion, contact Christine Leas or Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz.
November 13, 2012
New York’s highest court recently upheld lower court decisions requiring the New York City School Construction Authority (“SCA”), as lead agency under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”), to consider in the environmental review process the long-term maintenance and monitoring requirements designed to assure the continued effectiveness of the remediation of hazardous substances.
The remediated site at issue in the case, Bronx Committee for Toxic-Free Schools v. New York City School Construction Authority, was a former railyard in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, on which SCA built a campus with four public schools that opened in 2010. The remedial measures included several engineering controls, such as vapor barriers under buildings and a hydraulic barrier to prevent contaminated groundwater from re-entering the site. The Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) incorporated the Remedial Action Work Plan (“RAWP”), which described the proposed cleanup, but neither document described the plans for long-term maintenance and monitoring. Those measures were later documented in the project’s Site Management Plan, which is required under the New York Brownfield Cleanup Program (“BCP”) to set forth any long-term program designed to ensure that a remediated site continues to be protective of public health and the environment. The lower court directed SCA to prepare a Supplemental EIS to examine those requirements, and the First Department affirmed.
In upholding these decisions, the Court of Appeals acknowledged the “broad discretion” afforded lead agencies in determining “what to include and what to omit” in an EIS, and the level of detail in an EIS, but found that a Supplemental EIS must be prepared because SCA had not disputed that the description of the long-term maintenance and monitoring requirements was “essential to an understanding of the environmental impacts of the Authority’s project” and “too important not to be described in an EIS.” Nor had SCA disputed that the measures were “‘essential’ to protecting the site’s occupants from dangerous contaminants.”
In response to arguments that the details of the maintenance and monitoring program could not reasonably be determined until the cleanup was completed, the Court noted that this was not a case where there was a dispute over whether post-EIS events were significant enough to warrant a supplement. Rather, it found that “[w]here important decisions about mitigation can only be made after the initial remedial measures are complete, a supplemental EIS may be called for, as it is here.” Thus, given SCA’s implicit acknowledgement of the importance of the long-term maintenance and monitoring measures, the EIS had not met SEQRA’s “hard look” standard, which requires that the environmental review identify and assess relevant areas of environmental concern.
Although it may not be possible to detail all of the long-term maintenance and monitoring requirements applicable to a given remediation in an EIS or in an Environmental Assessment Form (“EAF”) (or Environmental Assessment Statement (“EAS”) for New York City’s Environmental Quality Review), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s BCP regulations do require that a description of such measures be included in the RAWP. Thus, in the case of Brownfield sites, it should be possible to include sufficient information to satisfy SEQRA’s “hard look” requirement in an EIS (or an EAF or EAS).
However, this requirement may be more problematic for sites undergoing review under SEQRA at which it is impracticable to conduct investigations necessary to fully characterize a site and identify the necessary long-term maintenance and monitoring measures. For such projects, it will be important to describe such measures to the fullest extent practicable.
For more information on how the Toxic-Free Schools decision may affect your project, please contact Mark Chertok.
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