General environmental recommendations: industrial operations during the COVID-19 pandemic (Mexico)

In terms of environmental compliance and obligations, the federal authorities are yet to issue any official communications related to the COVID-19 outbreak, including those related to the suspension of procedures and regular activities; however, there are certain general recommendations that should be considered in the event of the suspension of industrial operations or a labor suspension of the authorities in order to properly address the situation.

A. Air Emissions


A.1 Facilities holding a Sole Environmental License or similar permit in terms of air emissions
 
In terms of air emissions, the Regulations to the General Law for Ecologic Balance and Environmental Protection on Prevention and Control of Atmosphere Pollution state that all federal air emissions sources shall comply with the obligation of filing a notice before the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) prior to suspending operations.
 
The above being independent from additional obligations included in the Sole Environmental License or Air Emissions License issued by SEMARNAT or the local authority, or included in local regulations, as well as cautionary measures that should be carried put in order to avoid generating air emissions that could affect the environment.
 
Thus, we recommend reviewing the specific obligations applicable to each facility in anticipation of the suspension of operations.
 
In addition, in the event of malfunction of an air emissions control device, an immediate notice must be filed before the authority.
 
A.2 Filing of the Annual Operations Report
 
In relation to the Annual Operations Report (COA) that must be filed before SEMARNAT between March 1st and June 30, considering that the COA system is entirely electronic, unless SEMARNAT issues a notice stating otherwise, the COA should be filed as usual.
 
A.3 Monitoring
 
Further, we recommend anticipating potential operations’ cease from authorized laboratories for sampling and analyzing air emissions for reporting and compliance purposes, thus it will be important to confirm the periodicity an deadlines for carrying out air emissions’ testing.

 

B. Environmental Impact


Environmental impact authorizations, both federal and local, usually include a series of reporting obligations. Thus, we recommend anticipating the suspension of activities of local and federal authorities, in order to file any required reports within the relevant deadlines (i.e. biyearly reports).
 
Likewise, we recommend reviewing existing authorizations in order to identify applicable obligations in terms of operations’ shutdown.
 
Finally, we recommend verifying the validity of existing operations in order to anticipate requesting the relevant time extensions before SEMARNAT or the local authorities.

 

C. Hazardous Wastes
 

Under the General Law for the Prevention and Integral Management of Wastes, hazardous wastes cannot be stored at the place on which they were generated for more than 6 months; thus, we recommend either carrying out the coordinated handling and final disposition of hazardous wastes earlier than usual, or requesting a time extension for waste-storage before SEMARNAT, for up to 6 additional months.
 
Likewise, the hazardous waste transport, delivery and receipt manifests should be returned by the waste handling company to the generator within the following 60 calendar days to the issuance of the manifest.
 
Finally, as we mentioned in section A above, large generators of hazardous waste shall also anticipate the regular filing of the COA before SEMARNAT, event during operations’ shutdown.

 

D. National Waters Extraction

 

D.1 Renewal and/or modification of concession titles
 
We recommend taking into account the deadlines for renewing concession titles issued by the National Waters Commission (CONAGUA); renewal requests should be filed at least 6 months prior to the loss-of-validity date of the concession title, and can be filed within the last 5 years of validity of the concession title. Should you currently hold a concession title with a nearing loss of validity, we recommend filing the renewal request sooner than planned (at least 6 months before loss of validity); in the event that CONAGUA suspends its activities.
 
Likewise, in the event of requiring any modifications to a concession title, whether technical or administrative in nature, we suggest preparing the required documentation and filing it before CONAGUA, in anticipation of a shutdown.
 
D.2 Reports, payment of rights and 10-A forms
 
Further, should a shutdown of industrial operations result in the reduction or cease of water consumption under a concession title, reporting obligations such as the filing of 10-A forms and the generation of declarations via the electronic system Declar@gua system should be maintained, even if generated in zero; considering the corresponding measurements that the measuring devices show, even during suspension of the authorities’ activities, as the reporting obligations remain in force even if no water is exploited (unless indicated otherwise by CONAGUA).
 
D.3 Measures to implement in the event of suspending the operations of an extraction well
 
In the event that water extraction wells ceased to be exploited as the result of an operations shutdown, the maintenance and aquifer protection guidelines stated under Mexican Official Standard NOM-004-CONAGUA-1994 should be considered.

 

E. Wastewater discharge

 

E.1 Wastewater quality monitoring
 
For wastewater discharges under a CONAGUA issued wastewater discharge permit, we recommend confirming the required periodicity (monthly, quarterly or biyearly) of wastewater sampling and analysis in anticipation to an operations’ shutdown of authorized laboratories, and coordinating the necessary sampling and analysis activities beforehand.
 
In the event that mandated sampling and analysis of wastewater discharges cannot be carried out due to a lack of available authorized laboratories, we recommend identifying the best possible way of documenting such situation as a cautionary measure for future contingencies
 
E.2 Wastewater treatment plant operations’ suspension
 
In the event of ceasing operations of a wastewater treatment plant, CONAGUA can determine the operations’ shutdown of the process that generates the would-be treated discharge, if CONAGUA considers that there is a potential risk to the environment or public health.
 
Thus, in the event of a shutdown of operations, whether temporary or definitive, of the wastewater treatment plant which discharges into a national water body, a notice under procedure No. CONAGUA-01-017, must be filed before said authority, indicating the handling that will be given to the otherwise treated wastewater and confirming that there are no risks to the environment or public health.
 
Finally, wastewater discharge permits issued by local authorities may contain similar provisions, and should be reviewed accordingly.
 
E.3 Payment of rights for wastewater discharge into national water bodies
 
In the event that a shutdown of operations of the wastewater treatment plant results in the reduction or suspension of the generation of wastewater, we recommend anticipating the filing of declarations through the online system Declar@gua, following the usual determination of rights procedure (volume, quality or accreditation), even during a potential suspension of CONAGUA’s activities, as the reporting obligations remain in force even if no water is exploited (unless indicated otherwise by CONAGUA).
 
In Hogan Lovells, we are prepared to assess and see to any matter related to the previous recommendations.

 

 

 

Authored by Brenda Rogel Salgado, Jeanett Trad Nacif, and Javier Camacho Piedra

 

Contacts
Brenda Rogel Salgado
Partner
Mexico City
Jeanett Trad Nacif
Counsel
Mexico City
Javier Camacho Piedra
Associate
Mexico City

 

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