Client Update: Queensland reforms reduce 'green tape' burden
28 October 2011
In brief: In a bid to reduce the 'green tape' burden on business, major reforms of the Queensland environmental assessment and approvals regime have been introduced, and will impact on businesses including the manufacturing, waste management, mining and resources sectors. Partner Bill McCredie (view CV) and Senior Associate Eve Lynch report on the significant changes that are proposed.
- 'Environmental Authority' for all ERAs
- New application and assessment process
- Suitable operator registration
- Other significant changes
- Transitional arrangements
- Timing of reforms
The Environmental Protection (Greentape Reduction) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 (the Greentape Bill) was introduced into Parliament on 26 October. The Greentape Bill contains significant reforms to the existing regime for environmental assessment and approvals in Queensland, including a new 'streamlined' process for environmental authorities across all industries. The proposed reforms will impact on all businesses subject to environmental regulation under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (the EP Act), including the manufacturing, waste management, mining and resources sectors.
A single approval process for all 'environmentally relevant activities' (ERAs) will replace the fragmented regime under the EP Act. The current distinction between mining and petroleum activities and other activities for the purpose of assessment and approval will be replaced by a single assessment process under the new Chapter 5 of the EP Act.
Under the new regime, ERAs will be classified as either 'resource activities' (including mining, petroleum and geothermal activities) or 'other activities', and will be authorised by an 'environmental authority'. An environmental authority will attach to the operator of the activity and a registration certificate will no longer be required for any ERAs. Regulation of ERAs under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (the SPA) will be limited, and development approvals will no longer be required for certain ERAs.
The new application and assessment process for environmental authorities under Chapter 5 will comprise four stages: application, information, notification and decision. Not all stages will apply to all applications. For example, the information and notification stages will not apply to ERAs that have been assessed and publicly notified through an environmental impact statement (EIS) process. The application and assessment process under Chapter 5 will have only limited application where the proposed activity is separately assessed under the SPA.
The staging of the assessment process under the new Chapter 5 is modelled on the integrated development assessment system under the SPA. The stages of assessment flow consecutively and applications can lapse where statutory timeframes are not complied with.
There are three types of application under the new regime:
- 'standard applications' for lower-risk ERAs for which standard environmental conditions will apply;
- 'variation applications' for lower-risk ERAs that are eligible for the standard environmental conditions but for which a change is proposed; and
- 'site-specific applications' for ERAs for which there are no standard environmental conditions, or the proposed activities do not comply with eligibility criteria.
New requirements are prescribed for applications and the level of detail an applicant must provide will depend on the type of application made. An impact assessment will not be required for standard applications or for activities assessed in an EIS. For mining activities, an environmental management plan will no longer be submitted with an application.
This stage will not apply to standard applications. During this stage, the administering authority may request further information from the applicant and, for site-specific applications, direct that an EIS be prepared.
This stage will only apply to applications for mining activities (mining lease) or site-specific applications that involve geothermal, greenhouse gas storage or petroleum activities.
In contrast with current procedures for applications involving a mining lease, public notification will be undertaken on the application documents and not the draft environmental authority. Any submissions made during the period of public notification will be considered by the administering authority making a decision on the draft authority.
The decision procedures and applicable criteria vary depending on the type of application. For standard applications not involving a mining activity, the environmental authority is automatically approved. Variation applications will either be approved subject to varied conditions or approved subject to the standard conditions.
Special decision-making provisions apply to applications involving a mining lease and where any third-party objections cannot be resolved by the applicant, the existing process for referral to the Land Court will apply, subject to limited changes.
A site-specific application must be refused by the administering authority where the applicant is not registered as a 'suitable operator' (discussed below).
A person or corporation may apply under the new Chapter 5A to be registered as a 'suitable operator' to carry out an ERA. All existing holders of registration certificates and environmental authorities under the EP Act will be automatically included on the register of suitable operators.
The Greentape Bill contains a suite of amendments to streamline the administration and enforcement of environmental authorities. Significant changes include:
- introduction of a process by which a corporation may merge its environmental authorities for different sites into a single 'amalgamated corporate authority', subject to a single set of administrative conditions (for example, notification and reporting conditions);
- introduction of automatic transfers of environmental authorities between 'suitable operators'; and
- a new requirement for petroleum lease holders to submit a plan of operations (similar to the requirements that apply to mining leases).
The Greentape Bill contains transitional provisions to preserve rights under existing registration certificates, development approvals and environmental authorities. Upon commencement of the proposed amendments to the EP Act:
- existing development permits and registration certificates for former 'chapter 4' ERAs and existing environmental authorities are deemed to be environmental authorities under the new Chapter 5 of the EP Act;
- undecided development applications for former 'chapter 4' ERAs and undecided applications for environmental authorities will continue to be assessed under the repealed legislation, with any approvals granted deemed to be environmental authorities under the new Chapter 5; and
- there will be an opportunity for holders of deemed authorities to apply to convert the authority's conditions to the standard conditions.
The reforms are part of the Queensland Government's commitment to reduce the 'green tape' burden on business by the end of 2013, with funding committed for the initial implementation costs to June 2012. However, an extended implementation period is proposed, with up to three years indicated for preparation of the suite of standard conditions.
- Bill McCrediePartner,
Ph: +61 7 3334 3049
- Paul LalichPartner,
Ph: +61 2 9230 4026
- Jim ParkerPartner,
Ph: +61 2 9230 4362
- Chris SchulzPartner,
Ph: +61 3 9613 8772