Australia: Updated regulations proposed for EPA works approval and licensing in Victoria

The Environment Protection (Scheduled Premises and Exemptions) Regulations 2007 (Scheduled Premises Regulations), which define which activities are required to obtain an Environment Protection Authority (EPA) works approval or licence, will sunset on 26 June 2017.

On 20 October 2016, the Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) for the proposed Environment Protection (Scheduled Premises) Regulations 2017 was released. The RIS is open for comment until 16 December 2016.

In summary, the RIS recommends that the existing Scheduled Premises Regulations be remade with the following changes:

  • application thresholds to allow temporary storage of limited amounts of asbestos and liquid prescribed industrial waste;
  • works approval exemptions for sewage and potable water treatment plants;
  • more limited exemptions for premises that emit fine particulates; and
  • expanded definitions of certain categories of scheduled premises to include e-waste and glass re-processors.

Context for reform

There is a significant level of uncertainty about the overarching policy setting for the Scheduled Premises Regulations due to:

  • the release of the report of the independent Inquiry into the EPA, to which the Victorian Government is yet to respond;
  • the review of the Climate Change Act 2010 and forthcoming release of a Climate Change Framework;
  • forthcoming advisory committee reports on animal industries and major hazard facilities;
  • reviews of the State Environmental Protection Policies regarding waste and noise; and
  • the development of a hazardous waste policy position by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP).

However, as the Regulations sunset next year, DELWP and the EPA have no choice but to review the Regulations now. Therefore, the review is being undertaken using a staged approach. Stage 1, which is analysed in the RIS, aims to implement limited reforms that provide certainty and improve functionality. Stage 2, which will involve a comprehensive review of the Regulations, will be undertaken once there is greater certainty about the overarching policy setting.

Proposed changes

The RIS recommends that the Scheduled Premises Regulations be remade with the following changes to provide certainty, improve functionality and minimise regulatory burden:

  1. Temporary storage of asbestos exemption: The RIS indicates that requiring works approval and licensing for the temporary storage of small amounts of non-friable asbestos imposes a significant burden, yet is ineffective in reducing the risk associated with the activity. On this basis, the RIS supports the introduction of an exemption to works approval and licensing requirements to allow less than 10 m3 of double wrapped, non-friable asbestos to be stored for up to 60 days. This exemption would only apply to transfer stations or public utility depots that are at least 100 m from sensitive land uses. It is considered that any residual risk associated with temporary storage under these conditions is adequately controlled by occupational health and safety laws.
  2. Temporary storage of liquid prescribed industrial waste exemption: For similar reasons, the RIS supports the introduction of an exemption to works approval and licensing requirements to allow for storage of up to 1,000 litres of liquid prescribed industrial waste for 60 days. This exemption would only apply to substances considered to be 'low hazard'.
  3. New exemptions for water corporations: The RIS supports the introduction of an exemption for water corporations from works approval requirements for certain types of works to sewage treatment plants, on the basis that water corporations have the capacity to appropriately design minor modifications. The exemption would apply to various minor works, including works that provide for:
    • up to 20 per cent more capacity for aerobic bioreactors or anaerobic digester systems, subject to certain conditions;
    • the collection of biogas for power generation or flaring;
    • increased storage capacity for emergency storage lagoons; and
    • increased nutrient removal within an existing treatment system.
  1. Potable treatment plant exemption: Although potable water treatment plants do pose some environmental risks through the storage of potentially harmful chemicals near surface waters, the RIS concludes that other controls, particularly those imposed by WorkSafe, adequately manage the risks to human health and the environment. As such, the RIS supports the introduction of an exemption from works approval requirements for potable water treatment plants.
  2. Limit availability of exemptions for premises that emit particulate matter: Since the Scheduled Premises Regulations were introduced in 2007, the State Environment Protection Policy (Ambient Air Quality) (SEPP AQM) has changed to reflect a growing body of research that indicates that fine particles have adverse health effects. The RIS therefore proposes to limit the availability of exemptions for premises that emit 4 kg or more of PM2.5 per day.
  3. Categorise e-waste re-processors as scheduled premises: E-waste is defined as any end-of-life equipment which is dependent on electric currents or electromagnetic fields in order to function. E-waste reprocessing involves changing the physical structure or properties of e-waste to allow for further use, which can involve significant environmental risk. The RIS therefore proposes to include e-waste re-processors that re-process more than 500 tonnes per year of e-waste under the 'other waste treatment' category A02, thus requiring such facilities to obtain works approval and licences.
  4. Categorise glass re-processors as scheduled premises: Glass re-processing generally involves crushing or grinding waste glass, which can produce dust emissions and may pose risks to human health. The RIS therefore proposes to expand the existing scheduled category for glass works, H05, to include glass reprocessing of more than 10,000 tonnes per year of glass waste, thus requiring such facilities to obtain works approval and licences.

A number of other minor and administrative changes are also proposed.

Please contact our Environment and Planning team if you require further information about how these changes may affect you.

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Elisa de Wit
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