The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is hoping some changes to the Voluntary Remediation Agreements participants in its Voluntary Remediation Program (VRP) execute in order to join the VRP will get projects that have stalled for years off the ground. A recent report from an Indianapolis news station indicated hundreds of sites participating in the VRP have gone unchecked for years, insinuating that the responsible parties (RPs) had been using the VRP as a loophole to delay cleanup while not having to face the legal ramifications of their inaction. In contrast to the State Cleanup program, the VRP offers its participants protection against future IDEM liability with a covenant not to sue at the completion of the cleanup. The new guidelines offer a more detailed set of benchmarks and deadlines in order to root out this problem.
Under the old guidelines, if an RP wanted to take part in the VRP, it had to have its chemical plume well-defined. The new requirements allow for a 2-year window for the plume to be fully characterized and investigated after signing the Voluntary Remediation Agreement (VRA). The IDEM’s new deadline for investigation and site characterization should force RPs to address their environmental issues or lose the protections against liability that the VRP provides in contrast to the State Cleanup program.
Also, a new, clear deadline has been set for the development and submission of a Remedial Work Plan (RWP). A responsible party and its environmental consultant have 180 days to conduct their initial and further site investigations and come up with a RWP to put into action. If they don’t comply with this deadline, the responsible party runs the risk of being taken out of the VRP, opening them up to possible lawsuits. However, the updated rules are not completely inflexible: once an RWP has been submitted, stakeholders and VRP project managers are given a little more leeway. Deadlines will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
For years, companies responsible for hazardous chemical contaminations have hid behind and took advantage of a program that’s number one priority is to protect human health and cleanup contamination while offering a layer of protection to its participants. The hope is with these new modifications to the VRAs, the prior inaction by VRP participants should be prevented from happening.