Amendments to the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) to cut "green tape" for environmental approvals and processes:
The Greentape Reduction project
On 26 October 2011 the Queensland Government, through its Greentape Reduction project headed by the Department of Environment and Resource Management, introduced into State Parliament, a raft of significant reforms to the environmental licensing and approvals process under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (EP Act).
The Greentape Reduction project is comprised of four key initiatives:
- Developing a licensing model that is proportionate to the risk of the activity, ie, lower risk environmentally relevant activities (ERAs) will go through a simpler assessment process to that of higher risk activities.
- Providing flexible operational approvals for ERAs, ie, the creation of an "operational licence" which attaches to the operator rather than to the land.
- Streamlining the process for resources approvals, ie, streamlining the application criteria for mining and petroleum approvals, restructuring environmental authorities on mining tenures, enabling different licensing structures.
- Streamline and clarify information requirements, ie, introducing third party certification and compliance assessment process, improved guidance for information requirements and reduction in information required for assessment.
These initiatives when implemented under the EP Act will substantially change the landscape of environmental approvals and assessment processes in Queensland. They aim to simplify and streamline regulatory requirements, and primarily seek to ensure that Queensland's regulatory framework reduces regulatory costs to industry and government while maintaining environmental standards. In particular, the amendments seek to create a single approval process for ERAs and to develop a licensing model that is proportionate to the risk of the activity and provide flexible operational approvals for ERAs under the EP Act.
New proportionate approval processes
The amendments to the EP Act will separate environmental authorities from development permits while still maintaining a similar approval process for ERAs as that provided for development permits under the Sustainable Planning Act 20091.
The reforms will see proportional licensing initiatives. Three types of application are proposed under the amendments for ERAs that are based on the risk the ERAs pose to the environment and reflect the new proportionate approval processes.
- Standard applications - operators will be able to make a standard application for lower risk ERAs and for which standard conditions have been developed if they comply with a set of eligibility criteria2.
- Variation applications - where an operator cannot meet all the standard conditions, flexibility is afforded through the variation application to change some of the conditions3.
- Site-specific applications - for all ERAs not subject to a standard application or variation application, operators will be required to make a site-specific application4.
By separating the environmental authority from the development permit, the environmental authority can be held personally by the operator and not attach to the land. This separation allows new measures to be introduced. The amendments will allow amalgamation of a number of environmental authorities for resource activities into one "single project authority." In addition, an "amalgamated corporate authority" has been introduced whereby a company holding environmental authorities on multiple sites can amalgamate its licences into a single operation under a single environmental authority. Under the amendments, because the environmental authority will be separate from the development permit, in many cases changing conditions will not require a change to a development approval or require a new development permit.
Who will benefit?
All businesses requiring environmental authorities are expected to see some benefit from the changes as they promise greater certainty and should avoid some of the lengthy assessment processes that in some cases cause significant delays and cost increases to projects. Enterprises that are currently required to be licensed under the EP Act (including mining, coal seam gas and petroleum industries as well as waste management, manufacturing, extractive industries and intensive livestock industries) will benefit from the improved licensing model which allows businesses to hold corporate licences to manage their environmental authorities in an integrated way. This should greatly simplify business practices. There are also a number of particular benefits for those involved in resource activities.
Protection of the environment
As well as benefiting industry, the changes are purportedly designed to also benefit the environment and, it is claimed, will not be at the expense of current environmental protection and standards5. All current penalties for non-compliance will be maintained but show cause notices will be introduced to deal with non-compliance. Environmental laws and regulations will continue to require adherence by all licence and approval holders for activities under the EP Act.
How we can assist?
The amendments to the EP Act are significant. The environmental and planning specialists in our Brisbane Real Estate team can advise on effects of the proposed amendments and how you or your clients can receive the full benefits and take advantage of the new processes.
1 That is, the approval process for ERAs will
include the application, information, notification and decision
2 Upon making an application, where an activity meets the eligibility criteria, the operator will automatically receive standard conditions without the need for an assessment process.
3 A variation application is only assessed on the basis of the variation to the standard approval.
4 This is the same as the current process but there are additional information requirements for applications that relate to a coal seam gas activity.
5 The amendments effectively maintain existing protection measures.
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