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Australia – Out With The Old…29 “Low Risk” ERAs To Be Deleted.

8 December 2012

 

Legal News & Analysis – Asia Pacific – Australia – Environment

 

In brief

 

  • The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection is proposing to remove up to 29 environmentally relevant activity (ERA) thresholds from the Environmental Protection Regulation 2008 (Qld). ERAs proposed for deletion include some chemical storage, abrasive blasting and motor vehicle workshops.
  • 35 other ERAs – including some extraction activities and some sewage and water treatment works – will be subject to a simplified application process and standard conditions.
  • It is intended that these changes will take effect by 30 June 2013.

 

Up to 29 environmentally relevant activity (ERA) thresholds will be deleted from the Environmental Protection Regulation 2008 (Qld) in 2013, with a further 35 to be subject to a simplified application process. According to the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP), the changes – part of the Queensland Government’s “Greentape Reduction Project” – will save businesses approximately $6.77 million in annual fees, as well as reducing regulatory burden.

 

What will go?

 

According to the Review of Environmentally Relevant Activities – Draft Regulatory Assessment Statement (Draft RAS), up to 29 “low risk ERAs” will be deleted through amendments to the Environmental Protection Regulation 2008 (Qld).

 

The ERA thresholds proposed to be deleted include (among others):

 

  • storage of 10m3 to 500m3 of flammable or combustible liquids (ERA 8, threshold 3(a));
  • abrasive blasting (ERA 17);  crushing, milling, grinding or screening (ERA 33); and
  • motor vehicle workshop (ERA 21).

 

The full list can be found in the Draft RAS.

 

The report that accompanied the Draft RAS, Assigning Environmentally Relevant Activities to Assessment Tracks (ERA Report), indicates that ERAs were considered suitable for deletion where

 

  • amenity issues, including noise and dust, could be addressed by appropriate siting at the planning stage;
  • potential release of contaminants to the water environment could be appropriately responded to using the prescribed water contaminant provisions in the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (EP Act); and
  • certainty about environmental outcomes could be provided through guidelines or codes of practice.

 

According to the DEHP, the deletion of these ERAs will not lead to lower environmental standards; all businesses will still be required to satisfy the general environmental duty, and will still be subject to the requirements of the EP Act while operating. The DEHP is also proposing to develop codes of practice for deleted ERAs.

 

What are the benefits?

 

According to the RAS, the proposed amendments would deliver annual fees savings of approximately $6.77 million, as well as removing the regulatory burden associated with applying for and administering these approvals.

 

While the amendments will result in a loss of revenue – local governments stand to lose an estimated $5.5 million per year – the Draft RAS suggests this will be offset by no longer having to assess and administer the relevant ERAs.

 

What will happen if my ERA is deleted?

 

According to the DEHP’s website, where a business holds an existing approval for a deleted ERA threshold, it will not require an environmental authority under the amended regime (that is, once the Environmental Protection (Greentape Reduction) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2012 (Qld) commences). Consequently, the business will not be required to pay annual fees or submit annual returns for the deleted ERA threshold.

 

However, the DEHP has indicated that the environmental conditions that applied to that ERA will remain in the relevant development permit, and importantly, will still be enforceable under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Qld).

 

“Standard” applications

 

The ERA Report also proposes to allocate up to 35 ERA thresholds for “standard applications”.

 

Standard applications – to be introduced under the Environmental Protection (Greentape Reduction) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2012 (Qld) – are intended to provide a simplified and streamlined process for eligible ERAs that can be managed by standard conditions.

 

The ERA thresholds proposed to be the subject of standard applications include (among others):

 

  • extraction of 5,000t to 100,000t of earthen material per year (ERA 16, threshold 2(b));
  • screening activities (ERA 16, thresholds 3(a), 3(b) and 3(c)); 
  • operating sewage treatment works of 21 to 1,500 “equivalent person” capacity where discharge is through an irrigation scheme or to an infiltration trench (ERA 63, thresholds (2)(a)(i) and 2(b)(i));
  • desalination of 0.5ML to 5ML per day with release to sea water (ERA 64 thresholds 1(a) and (b)); and
  • treating more than 10ML raw water per day (ERA 64, threshold 3).

 

The full list can be accessed in the ERA Report.

 

According to the ERA Report, ERAs identified as suitable for standard applications had the following characteristics:

 

  • well-known and have accepted management practices;
  • largely independent of the location of the activity; and
  • emissions are reduced through low operational thresholds.

 

ERAs that present particular environmental risks – including fuel burning (ERA 15), mineral processing (ERA 31) and bulk material handling (ERA 50) – will remain subject to detailed, “site-specific” assessments.

 

 What’s next?

 

Submissions on the proposed changes closed on 26 October 2012. The DEHP has indicated an intention to make the necessary changes by 30 June 2013.

 

Lessons

 

  • Businesses should be aware of the proposed changes to ERAs and ensure their approvals reflect any amendments.
  • While ERAs may be deleted, existing conditions will remain enforceable. Codes of conduct for deleted ERAs may also be relevant to your activities even if they are no longer an ERA.

 

 

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