Tuesday, 14 August 2018

What is in the Environment Protection Amendment Bill 2018?

The Environment Protection Amendment Bill 2018 (the Bill) is the second tranche of reforms following the Ministerial Advisory Committee's Final Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Environment Protection Authority (EPA)

The first major reform, the Environment Protection Act 2017 created a new statutory objective for the EPA and clarified its focus; to protect human health and the environment from the harmful impact of waste and pollution.

The Bill, if passed, will repeal and replace the current Environment Protection Act 1970 (the old Act), and create a prevention-focussed regulatory regime that gives the EPA a wider array sanctions and controls to manage high-risk activity.

The Bill has a forced commencement date of 1 December 2020, but is intended to take effect from 1 July 2020.

General environmental duty

The cornerstone of the Bill is a general environmental duty modelled after the duty on employers in the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.  It creates a positive obligation on duty-holders to proactively minimise the risk of harm to health and the environment from pollution and waste.  Both individuals and people conducting a business or undertaking (duty-holders) breach the duty if they fail to take steps that are reasonably practicable to minimise the risk of harm.

The type of actions required of duty-holders are laid out in the Bill and include:

  • using and maintaining plant, equipment, processes and systems in a manner that minimises risks of harm to human health or the environment from pollution and waste; 
  • using and maintaining adequate systems to ensure that if a risk of harm to human health or the environment from pollution or waste were to eventuate, its harmful effects would be minimised; and
  • ensuring that all substances are handled, stored, used or transported in a manner that minimises risks of harm to human health or the environment from pollution and waste.

Those who breach the duty while conducting a business or an undertaking commit an indictable offence, and face a fine.

This duty will impact businesses, bodies and departments who engage in activities that pose a risk of harm to health or the environment from pollution and waste.

Permissions

There are three main tiers of permissions within the Bill: Licences (which are divided into operating, development and pilot project licences), permits and registrations.

In the old Act, licences and other types of approvals only applied to 'premises', whereas the Bill's permissions structure will apply to 'activities'.  The regulations will prescribe the types of activities that can be approved for each permission type.

The most easily granted permission, registrations, are meant for low to medium risk activity.  Permits are for less complex activities with a medium to high risk, and will include a standardised assessment process within the regulations.

The most onerous permission, in terms of application process and possible conditions is a licence.  It is designed for complex and high-risk activities and allows the EPA to customise conditions to suit the project.

Bodies that hold old permissions immediately prior to the Bill's commencement date will hold new permissions from the day the Bill commences.

Contaminated land

The Bill will create a duty to notify the EPA and an obligation to manage land contaminated by waste, a chemical substance or any other prescribed substance.  For the duty to apply, the contamination must be on or under the surface of the land, be present in a concentration above the background level and create a risk to human health or the environment.

If the land is contaminated, the Bill makes it clear that the person with management or control of the land is under the general duty to minimise risks of harm to human health and the environment from the contaminated land, which may include cleaning up the land.

The person with management or control must notify the EPA that the land is contaminated as soon as reasonably practicable.  Failure to do so results in a civil penalty.

Third party rights

The Bill will enable third parties to enforce breaches of the law and seek civil remedies where the EPA has not taken action.  The third party must be a person whose interests are affect by the contravention or non-compliance with the law, or anyone else with leave of the court where it is in the public interest.

If eligible, the third party has the same rights as the EPA to seek orders remedying or restraining breaches of the law, its regulations, or to licences and other permissions.

The right to enforce the law and seek remedies creates a new accountability mechanism on the EPA, where the regulator has failed or chose not to take action.

The Bill passed the Legislative Council on 9 August 2018.

For further information on the Bill and its implications, please contact:

Annette Jones
Principal Solicitor
8684 0444

Natasha Maugueret 
Managing Principal Solicitor 
8684 0223

This blog was produced with the assistance of Emma Buckley Lennox, Graduate Lawyer.

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