Client Update: Major changes proposed to environmental regulation in Queensland
24 September 2014
In brief: The Queensland Government has introduced amending legislation that will result in new flexibility, new obligations and higher penalties in relation to environmental regulation in Queensland. Partner Bill McCredie (view CV) and Senior Associate Gobind Kalsi report.
The Queensland Government has introduced the Environment Protection and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (the Bill). The Bill amends numerous provisions of environmental regulation in Queensland and will impact on existing industry operators and applicants for environmental approvals. Due to the scope of the changes, all operators in Queensland should seek advice to understand what the changes mean for them. The Bill has been referred to the Agriculture, Resources and Environment Committee, which is due to report to Parliament by 22 October 2014. Submissions to the committee can be made by 29 September 2014.
The key potential outcomes of the Bill (if passed unamended) include:
The Bill introduces a number of amendments to the assessment and regulation of environmental authorities, including variations to assessment timeframes and processes. A key new flexibility is the option to 'de-amalgamate' environmental authorities. The Bill proposes to introduce a 'de-amalgamation' process to split an environmental authority where a resource project is no longer being carried out as a single integrated operation, or the existing holder is proposing to transfer to another person a resource tenure to which the authority relates (for example, a mining lease or petroleum lease).
The introduction of these processes is important for the sale and purchase of resource assets.
The Bill proposes a complete restructure of the regulation of contaminated land in Queensland. Key proposed changes include the requirement that contaminated land investigation documents must be certified by an approved auditor under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (the EP Act) prior to submission to the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP).
Beneficial use approvals
The Bill proposes significant amendments to the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011. The existing Beneficial Use Approval process will be replaced with a new 'end of a waste code' and 'end of waste approval'. The aim of the amendments are to reduce the regulatory burden on industry and government.
Expanded duty to notify of environmental harm
The Bill proposes to expand the statutory duty to notify of environmental harm. The duty will expand to include a person who is the owner or occupier of contaminated land, or an auditor that is preparing a certification for a contaminated land investigation document, and the person becomes aware of 'the happening of an event, or a change in the condition of the contaminated land, that is causing, or is reasonably likely to cause serious or material environmental harm'.
The change is intended to address circumstances where contamination has originated from one lot and moved to an adjacent block.
Significant increase in penalties
The maximum penalty for offences under the EP Act are proposed to be significantly increased. In particular:
- the penalty for wilfully causing unlawful serious environmental harm is proposed to increase to a maximum of $3,557,812 for a corporation. Where the offence is not wilful, it is proposed to increase to a maximum of $2,561,625 for a corporation; and
- the penalty for causing wilful material environmental harm is proposed to increase to a maximum of $2,561,625 for a corporation. Where the offence is not wilful, it is proposed to a maximum of $947,801 for a corporation.
Maximum imprisonment terms for some offences will increase from two to five years.
Inclusion of non-'resource' ERAs in resource EAs
The Bill proposes to amend the meaning of an 'environmentally relevant activity' under the EP Act.
The purpose of the amendment is to permit DEHP:
- to list 'prescribed ERAs' (ie non-resource activity ERAs) such as sewage treatment and chemical storage on environmental authorities for resource activities;
- set conditions based up on the 'prescribed ERAs' listed;
- calculate fees based upon the 'prescribed ERAs' listed; and
- clarify where there is a change in operations, whether an amendment application needs to be made by the holder of the environmental authority.
This may mean resource operators in future will need 'minor' environmental authority amendments in addition to Plan of Operation amendments for operational changes.
The Bill proposes to significantly change a number of elements of environmental regulation in Queensland.
The list of key changes above is not exhaustive and industry should seek advice about what the proposed changes mean to existing operations and any new opportunities for existing operations or planned projects.
There is new flexibility, risk and opportunity for industry in the proposed Bill.
- Bill McCrediePartner,
Ph: +61 7 3334 3049
- Chris SchulzConsultant,
Ph: +61 3 9613 8772
- Philip MurraySpecial Counsel,
Ph: +61 7 3334 3147
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