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Changes to the Environmental Protection Act in Victoria

Following a public enquiry into the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) by the Victorian Government, the Environmental Protection Amendment Acts 2017 and 2018 were implemented. The 2017 amendment established the EPA as an independent statutory authority. The 2018 amendment act is transitioning through 2019 and will come into effect on the 1st July 2020.

The changes were brought about from a desire to have a world class regulator that prevents harm to the environment and public health.

Whereas previously the EPA may have been more involved at the harm stage, in the new model it is intended that the EPA will be more involved at the hazard and management stage. This model is similar to the approach used by Work Safe in that the activity must be characterised by the risks posed, and if the risk cannot be eliminated, then other management controls must be introduced.

The key changes include an introduction of ‘General Environmental Duty’, change to approvals and licensing regime, enforcement of industrial waste duties, new control measures for priority waste duties and a new Environmental Audit process. A brief summary of the changes is provided below:

General Environmental Duty (GED)

This has been employed to ensure that Victorian business, industries and communities have a focus on preventing environmental harm. Stakeholders must take reasonably practicable measures to either eliminate the risk or manage it. ‘Reasonably practicable’ refers to a proportional effort to likelihood and consequence. Detailed Compliance Codes will be made available so that businesses can ensure their environmental compliance and management systems are appropriate. Companies/ industries have a Duty to Report and a Duty to Manage. Currently the following is understood about these two duties:

  • Duty to Manage – Any site where pollution has occurred or contamination is present above natural background concentrations, that will cost >$50,000 to remediate (this includes soil, groundwater and air)
  • Duty to Report – A pollution incident or material harm (activities causing an adverse effect or costs >$10,000 to clean up)

A new ‘State of Knowledge’ framework will be introduced. This means that multiple offences incur escalating penalties. The expectation of the company/industry/individual increases as the state of knowledge does as they are expected to further understand their environmental responsibilities. For example, after a first offence of GED an improvement notice will be provided to the industry/individual, alongside State of Knowledge information. After the second offence a prohibition notice may be provided, which has greater penalties/consequences than the improvement notice since your state of knowledge is considered to be greater. The penalty continues to increase from there on.

Approvals and licensing regime

The major change to licensing is the introduction of permissions for all activities, not just high-risk ones. These permissions include registrations, permits and licenses, with the general degree of complexity in the project increasing from registrations to licenses. These permissions apply to ‘activities’ as opposed to ‘premises’ which will make the process more risk orientated.

Industrial Waste duties

  • Correct disposal of waste managed through correct licensing and monitoring;
  • Recognition of waste producers not disposing of waste properly; and
  • Volume based penalties for litter offences.

Priority Waste Duties

  • Introduction of controls that can be tailored to specific hazardous industrial wastes that have recovery, recycling or reuse potential; and
  • ‘Priority wastes’ – Hazardous and specified municipal wastes that have potential for recovery, recycling or reuses. Greater control on such wastes.

New Environmental Audit Process

  • Audits can be tailored in proportion to the contamination risk;
  • Preliminary Risk Screen (PRS), which take the form of a rapid low-cost assessment based on desktop study, site inspection and limited sampling;
  • Scaled Audit, involving assessing and managing risks to human and environmental health. This will include the PRS and so will be less complex and more focussed on the contamination risks highlighted in the PRS. A trial is currently being undertaken with PRS to determine the exact mechanisms of implementation; and
  • The new process will be beneficial for small sites, with a full-scale audit not always required anymore.

Changes to Regulations

  • We anticipate that the regulatory changes and associated detail will continue to be defined in the lead up to 1 July 2020;
  • GQRUZ’s and CUTEP are expected to remain. However they will be presented in a different format, will be more like position statements; and
  • SEPPS and WMPs are expected to be replaced by Environmental Reference Standards, General Duty, Regulations, Compliance Codes and Notices.

Further information regarding the regulatory changes is available on EPA’s website: www.epa.vic.gov.au  or via a subscription to updates at  https://www.epa.vic.gov.au/about-us/news-centre/subscribe.

Alternatively, Landserv’s experienced environmental scientists and engineers are available to discuss the implications of these changes to your organisation.