Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Home heating oil spills - protecting homeowners and our environment

Here is an excellent update on this issue from my colleague MLA Rob Fleming, 

June 30th, 2015
Earlier this year, my colleague Lana Popham (MLA Saanich South) and I organized a well-attended public forum on home heating oil spills. Recent media reports confirm that this is a huge problem for greater Victoria homeowners. In many cases, the risk is posed by the unknown presence of backyard underground home heating oil tanks that were improperly decommissioned.

Victoria still has a large number of homes heated by oil - natural gas service was only introduced to the island in 1992. The number of home heating oil leaks is likely increasing as the tanks (both buried and above-ground) age. 

Clean-up costs for homeowners can be massive, in several cases they have exceeded $100,000. I have constituents who suffered through exhausting and expensive legal proceedings for remediation and recovery of costs.

Two recent studies, one by the UVic Environmental Law Centre (ELC) and another prepared by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in B.C., concluded that the two major policy and legal gaps for dealing with home heating oil spills are liability and prevention.

Most homeowners have insurance policies with “pollution exclusion” clauses that won’t cover them in the event of a spill on their property. And most parts of the Capital Region don’t have an effective inventory system to track residential properties with oil heating systems or locate underground storage tanks (UST’s).

So how can we help protect homeowners from this unknown liability risk? One idea would be to replace B.C.’s “no fault” system, where homeowners are automatically held 100% responsible for costs, with something similar to Washington State’s pollution fund (based on a small surcharge of fuel unit) that homeowners can apply to for relief. 

Recently it was brought to my attention that B.C. already has legal authority to regulate and implement a Land Remediation Fund for residential property contaminations (see Bill 13 Environmental Management Amendment Act, passed in 2004, but still awaiting regulation 11 years later). Access to a Land Remediation Fund would protect homeowners from financial ruin and further the goal of addressing spill events and remediation of a contaminated property quickly to protect human health and the environment.

I recently spoke at an educational event organized by the Victoria Real Estate Board on the topic of home heating oil and presented an overview of how B.C.’s laws could be reformed to reduce homeowner liability and prevent residential home heating oil spills. A copy of my presentation is attached for your information.  

I have also spoken with the Hon. Mary Polak, Minister of the Environment regarding Bill 13 and the Pringle report, which recommended the CRD create a regional preventative program to incent the removal of UST’s. It is my hope that the province plays a lead role in coordinating action on this problem. MLA Popham and I will be following up with the Ministry in the next few months to see what progress has been made to protect homeowners and the precious waterways and natural environment in Saanich and Victoria.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you on this issue and other issues that are important to you.

Rob Fleming, MLA Victoria – Swan Lake | 1020 Hillside Ave. Victoria BC V8T 2A3 | 250-360-2023