Canada: New Year, New Environmental Rules: Alberta's Revised Remediation Rules Take Effect In 2019

On January 1, 2019, significant amendments to Alberta's Remediation Certificate Regulation will come into force. These include:

  • Renaming the regulation the Remediation Regulation
  • Creating a site-based remediation certificate
  • Creating a new reporting requirement for impacts
  • Defaulting to the application of Tier 1 rather than Tier 2 Guidelines
  • Issuing a Tier 2 compliance letter
  • Establishing a new mandatory remedial measures timeline

As discussed in more detail below, many of the amendments address long-standing concerns within the existing remediation certification process. However, in several instances they also introduce new areas of regulatory uncertainty.

SITE-BASED REMEDIATION CERTIFICATE

One of the primary concerns with the existing regime is that it is too limited in scope. Although it provides for remediation certificates to be issued for specific areas of land impacted by a contaminant release, it does not enable a property owner to obtain regulatory signoff for a complete site as opposed to only an area of a site.

In response to that concern, the Remediation Regulation introduces a new type of remediation certificate applicable to a complete site, which is referred to as a "site-based remediation certificate". A site-based remediation certificate confirms that all contaminants and areas of potential concern both on and off site have been addressed and necessarily involves the submission of more extensive documentation than what is required for a limited remediation certificate. To assist in the application process, the Alberta government is expected to develop and release a new application form and guide for a site-based remediation certificate application prior to January 2019.

NEW REPORTING REQUIREMENT

A person responsible for a release currently has a statutory obligation to report the release. In addition to this existing obligation, the Remediation Regulation imposes an additional obligation to report any new information about the "impact" of a released substance. Neither of the terms "new information", nor "impact", are defined in the Remediation Regulation, and it remains to be seen what additional guidance, if any, will be provided to clarify the scope of the additional obligation. Until that occurs, or until the courts clarify the scope of the obligation, uncertainty will likely prevail.

APPLICATION OF TIER 1 VERSUS TIER 2 GUIDELINES

Under the current Remediation Certificate Regulation, a person applying for a remediation certificate may elect to apply either generic Tier 1 Soil and Groundwater Remediation Guidelines (Tier 1 Guidelines) or site -specific Tier 2 Soil and Groundwater Remediation Guidelines (Tier 2 Guidelines).

The Remediation Regulation removes this discretionary election. Instead, the Tier 1 Guidelines will always be the default remediation standard. Regulatory approval will be required to remediate to Tier 2 Guidelines.

TIER 2 COMPLIANCE LETTER

Another major concern (and criticism) of the existing regime involves the situation where contaminant levels exceed Tier 1 Guidelines but not Tier 2 Guidelines. In such a situation, if the Tier 2 Guidelines are applied, the affected area will not require remediation. Notwithstanding the levels exceed Tier 1 Guidelines and would otherwise require remediation but for the application of the Tier 2 Guidelines, the regulator's position is that, since there has been no "remediation", it is unable to issue a "remediation certificate". The Remediation Regulation addresses this situation, albeit indirectly. Rather than amending the scenarios under which a remediation certificate can be issued to account for the above situation, the Remediation Regulation introduces a hybrid type of approval, described as a "Tier 2 compliance letter". Such a letter will be issued by the regulator when it is satisfied the area or the site meets Tier 2 Guidelines and therefore does not need to be remediated. The difficulty with such a hybrid approach is that it is unclear what type of legal protection a "Tier 2 compliance letter" provides. For example, a remediation certificate currently provides protection against a subsequent environmental protection order being issued for the same contaminant and area. A Tier 2 compliance letter provides no similar protection. Furthermore, no reference to a Tier 2 compliance letter is set out in Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and its legal significance is therefore unknown.

NEW REMEDIAL MEASURES TIMELINE

The Remediation Regulation introduces a mandatory timeline for remedial measures for all releases reported after January 1, 2019. If remediation cannot be completed to the satisfaction of the regulator within the following two years, a remedial action plan acceptable to the regulator must be submitted in accordance with the requirements of the Remediation Regulation.

The timeline is not mandatory for the complete remediation of a release. Rather, it is a timeline for the submission of a remedial action plan that will describe what further remedial activities will occur in the future. As such, it appears to be nothing more than an administrative requirement as opposed to an actual remedial efficiency requirement.

NEXT STEPS

The Remediation Regulation comes into force as of January 1, 2019, and all releases after that date must comply with its provisions. In the meantime, releases reported before January 1, 2019 will continue to be regulated in accordance with the current regime under the Remediation Certificate Regulation.

For permission to reprint articles, please contact the Blakes Marketing Department.

© 2018 Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP.

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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