Posted on May 29, 2014 by Carlo Zoppo

The new Environment Minister announces further measures to strengthen environment protection laws

The NSW Government yesterday announced a range of new measures that will strengthen the powers available to the EPA, including a proposed ten-fold increase in penalties for companies.

Environment Minister Rob Stokes said “the changes will provide the EPA with the toughest regulatory powers in Australia”, which can be used against industries that pose the greatest risk to communities”.

The proposed changes include: 

  •  Increasing fines (by penalty notice) for the ten most serious environmental offences from $1500 to $15,000 for a corporation and from $750 up to $7,500 for an individual;
  •  giving the Land and Environment Court alternative approaches to sentencing, including the ability to set restorative justice actions which would benefit the environment and the victims of environmental incidents.

The changes are on top of recent changes that include:

  • the introduction of risk-based licencing from 1 July 2015 (For further detail click here);
  • amendments to the Protection of the Environment Operations Act including:
    • the creation of a new offence for providing false or misleading information about waste;
    • increased penalties for repeat offenders;
    • powers to seize motor vehicles used to commit repeat offences.
  • proposed changes set out in the recently released exposure draft of the new Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation 2014 that includes:
    • new obligations on operators of intermediary waste facilities including:
      • a liability to pay the waste levy on certain types and amounts of waste received at the facility;
      • additional reporting obligations and obligations to conduct volumetric surveys of waste.
    • new powers allowing the EPA to require the operator of a Scheduled Waste Facility to install and operate a video monitoring system for waste received at the facility so that the EPA can monitor (and gather evidence regarding) the movement of waste into and out of the facility;
    • significant reductions (up to 90% in some cases) in licensing thresholds that will result in an additional 50 waste facilities (including 10 waste tyre facilities) being regulated by the EPA.

The exposure draft of the Regulations remains open for public consultation until 6 June 2014. (For further detail click here).

 Who will the changes affect?

The changing of the guard with the appointment of new Environment Minister signals some interesting times ahead in environmental regulation.

The NSW government believes that the changes contained in the proposed Waste Regulation will address the “disparity in regulatory oversight that has given rise to an increase in intermediary facilities rorting the system” by illegal dumping, excessive stockpiling or misclassification of waste.

The changes are directed at enhancing the already significant powers of the EPA and providing it with effective tools to allow the EPA to effectively regulate the “cowboys” operating in industries with the potential to pollute including in particular the waste industry.

The impacts of the changes on the day to day operations of waste facilities including activities carried out by local government will become clearer once the full detail of the changes are released.