PLIA and Ecology Optimistic about First Month of New Technical Assistance Program

In a recent presentation to the Northwest Environmental Business Council, the Director of the Pollution Liability Insurance Agency (PLIA), Russ Olsen, was pleased with the progress of the new Petroleum Technical Assistance Program (PTAP), citing the successful entry of 48 sites into the new program, which provides technical assistance and opinion letters on low- and medium risk sites where petroleum is the only contamination.  Jim Pendowski, manager of Ecology’s Toxic Cleanup Program, agreed with the positive assessment, noting the collaborative effort of both agencies to delineate responsibility between the new program and Ecology’s Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP).  Mr. Pendowski has indicated the new program should help free up Ecology resources to focus on other priorities and substantially decrease the VCP “backlog” of sites that were awaiting assistance due to bandwidth limitations.  Director Olsen noted that Phillips 66 had recently finalized an agreement to enter a portfolio of 18 of their sites into PTAP, and two other oil companies were in advanced discussions to enter portfolios into the program as well.

A review of the initial sites indicates that only about 11 of the initial 48 sites were actually “new” sites to PLIA – the remainder are among the 80 sites that were already involved in PLIA’s “reinsurance” program.  PLIA has anticipated and prepared for many more sites (Director Olsen has indicated that they are ready for as many as 400 sites in the program’s first year).  PLIA staff also indicated that they had to turn away some sites with other commingled plumes of petroleum with other contamination, such as dry cleaning contamination, and redirect them to Ecology’s VCP.  One site they had to turn away as the initial release had not yet been reported to Ecology; in accordance with MTCA, that site needed to proceed through the reporting process which starts with Ecology’s record-keeping system regardless of the eventual assignment.  Once that site was reported, it received an NFA from Ecology in the Initial Investigation phase and so never made it to PLIA – and therefore did not need to pay the one-time $7,500 fee required to participate in PTAP.  PLIA staff indicated that this fee is only due after the “intake” meeting which is to be scheduled within 45 days of application; and is only due for entities who decide to proceed with PTAP.

Nnamdi Madakor, the program’s technical lead, reiterated some of the advantages of PTAP over the VCP route; due to the specialization of the program, focusing on similar sites, PTAP is able to provide greater response time and speed with the ability to use the entirety of the MTCA “toolkit,” and not just the generic, selective approach that has been more typical for the VCP.  Based on interactions with him and his team, both claims are consistent with their implementation early on in the program’s infancy.  However, Mr. Madakor emphasized the importance of being well-prepared going into the initial intake meeting, with as complete an understanding of site contamination and remediation plans as possible.

If you have any questions about PLIA, Ecology, or contaminated site characterization or cleanup, please do not hesitate to contact John McCorkle.