An Alternative Approach for Petroleum-Site Cleanups

With around 3,000 historical leaking underground petroleum storage tanks (USTs) and systems across Washington state, petroleum cleanup is a big issue for business owners, homeowners, and regulators. The traditional leaking UST cleanup process is typically counted in years and often stymied by the lack of available regulatory staff to handle the large volume of sites efficiently. 

To help remedy this, the state’s Pollution Liability Agency (PLIA) created a new cleanup route--the Petroleum Technical Assistance Program (PTAP)--beginning in January 2018. The PTAP program offers applicants the potential of lower cost associated with regulatory oversight and a commitment to faster turnaround times for opinions on their UST sites. Thanks to a 2017 change in state law, PLIA now has the statutory authority to provide technical oversight and write opinions--something only Ecology previously had--on UST sites, thus giving site owners and operators a new alternative to the state’s traditional Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP) process.

With over a decade of petroleum site cleanup experience, Aspect’s Senior Engineer Eric Marhofer gives a primer on the potential PTAP has for UST owners.

What does the new PTAP Program Mean for Site Owners? 

The nuance of PLIA’s approach is to work more collaboratively with site owners--for example, they plan to hold an intake meeting at the outset upon enrollment to review the site status with the applicant and set achievable milestones. PLIA is looking to provide more certainty upfront, and quicker, more pragmatic opinions and responses throughout the process. The goal is to efficiently move sites toward a “No Further Action” determination and, ultimately, allow the owner to return their site to a business asset instead of a liability. 

Additionally, the PTAP may work more seamlessly for site owners already working in cooperation with PLIA through their Commercial Reinsurance and/or Loan and Grant programs.

There’s a number of PLIA financing and insurance options available to help UST owners and operators move their sites towards closure.

What’s the Process?

PLIA is looking to offer a streamlined application and approval process, a one-time flat fee of $7,500 for service (vs. hourly billing for review and opinions in the VCP), an intake meeting with senior technical staff to review your Site (which does not typically happen in the VCP), and faster turn-around times for written opinions (a goal of 45 days versus 90+ days with Ecology).  

PTAP’s Program begins accepting applications January 2, 2018.

Are there any risks?

Depending on how much regulatory oversight is anticipated, a flat-fee of $7,500 may not make sense for some sites. However, for more complex sites that may need multiple opinions over the life of the investigation and cleanup, that fee will likely represent a good value. 
There are also certain factors site owners will want to consider when determining whether their site qualifies for PTAP. For example, there can be no impacts to sediment or surface water and there can be no co-mingled, non-petroleum contamination. Additionally, sites facing litigation may not qualify. If the site is disqualified for one or more reasons after enrollment in PTAP, it is unclear whether the enrollment fee is refundable.

PTAP eligibility criteria.

PLIA also expects actionable steps to be taken on the part of the applicant/owners to move forward with investigations and cleanups once accepted to the program.  In other words, PLIA will not be a safe harbor for Sites to enroll to avoid Ecology enforcement but not take any actions to investigate or clean up their site.  Sites may be disqualified from the program for inactivity and the enrollment fee may not be refundable.  

Learn more here: http://plia.wa.gov/ptap/ or contact Eric at emarhofer@aspectconsulting.com.
 

How Dirty is the Dirt: Ripple Effects of Proposed Solid Waste Handling Regulations

The difference between “clean” and “dirty” dirt may become a lot more complex if new solid waste handling regulations take effect in Washington state. The state’s Department of Ecology (Ecology) has proposed significant revisions to Washington Administrative Code (WAC) Chapter 173-350, which governs how solid waste is managed. The proposed changes, which will be formally proposed later this year, will affect a number of solid waste practices, but the key revisions with the most significant implications concern creation of a new section establishing and standardizing criteria for managing the movement, reuse and disposal of soil and sediment  that is considered “clean” under the state’s Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) but may have trace levels of contaminants (draft WAC 173-350-995).

Excavated soil from Seattle City Light’s new Denny Substation in South Lake Union. Under proposed new solid waste regulations, managing, hauling, and receiving this soil will likely be much more complicated for engineers, redevelopment teams, and landfill operators.

With the Puget Sound region by some counts leading the nation in development projects – which all generate dirt during construction excavation that must be reused or hauled away – establishing soil management protocols will likely have significant ripple effects in the business and regulated community. Consider just one urban skyrise, as this article on construction dirt does. A typical downtown Seattle building project could potentially generate 250,000 cubic yards of soil (equal to 25,000 dump truck loads) that must be removed from the site. The new soil and sediment criteria would potentially mean higher sampling costs, more complex soil management plans, additional reuse constraints, and greater soil volumes filling up limited landfill space.

How managing “Dirty” Dirt would change

Contaminated sites are regulated under MTCA, which provides screening criteria for defining impacted soil. Soil with contaminants below MTCA screening levels is considered “clean”. Currently, the end use of “clean” excavated soil is largely determined by criteria set by individual receiving facilities—gravel mine, landfill, reuse site, etc. These facilities may all have different standards for what level of impacted soil they will accept. The new proposed regulation would change that, formulating the screening process for “clean” soil and creating formal soil reuse and disposal acceptance criteria. This means that “clean” soil (albeit with low levels of contaminants at concentrations protective of human health and the environment) would now need to go through rigorous sampling, laboratory analysis, evaluation, and jurisdictional health department permitting just to be hauled away. This would be a big change from the current process, where this same “clean” soil can be reused as fill because it is deemed “protective” of human health and the environment, per MTCA.

Implications of new regulations

At the heart of the update is the intent to formally regulate soils that are not perfectly clean. Ecology hopes the rule update will streamline management, decrease delays in soil movement, reduce the potential for creating new cleanup sites, and reduce environmental damage. Practitioners see the implications of these proposed rule updates as increasing the cost of development projects, slowing development schedules, creating a regulatory quagmire, and causing landfills to fill with soil that could be put to use elsewhere.