As mentioned in our insight article published last week, the PRCP regime commenced on Friday, 1 November, although the Department of Environment and Science's (DES) PRCP Guideline had yet to be published.
After much anticipation, the guideline was released on Monday, 4 November. As expected, it sheds light on a number of statutory information requirements for the preparation of progressive rehabilitation and closure plans (PRCP) and PRCP schedules under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (EP Act). Briefly, the PRCP Guideline:
- clarifies the content requirements for PRCP and PRCP schedules,
such as (among other things):
+ specifying what 'other information' DES reasonably considers necessary to decide whether to approve a proposed PRCP. This includes information regarding site topography, groundwater levels and pre-mining land use; and
+ requiring environmental authority (EA) holders to demonstrate exactly how rehabilitation will be maximised for a mine site, such as how certain mining methods, features and infrastructure have been designed for closure;
- lists the factors that DES will consider in assessing a proposed post-mining land use (PMLU) for land, such as any regulatory constraints on the land (e.g. Indigenous Land Use Agreements, local and regional land use plans, or registered heritage places), the relative costs of each rehabilitation option, and the potential economic, social and environmental benefits of each rehabilitation option;
- outlines the evidence required to justify a non-use management area (NUMA) remaining after a project's closure. The PRCP Guideline makes it clear that a NUMA will only be accepted after PMLU options have been assessed, and that the total area for a proposed NUMA must be limited to the extent that the land cannot be otherwise used for any PMLU;
- requires a PRCP to include a 'flood plain model report' prepared by an appropriately qualified person for a void located within a flood plain;
- specifies how, and with whom, public consultation must be carried out and recorded in respect to a proposed PRCP; and
- lists the general information DES considers is necessary to underpin the development of methodologies to rehabilitate the land to a stable condition (including in relation to tailings storage facilities and voids).
Helpfully, the PRCP Guideline outlines a seven-step methodology for developing a PRCP schedule. This includes preparation of a final site design, identifying which areas of a resource tenure classified as either PMLU or NUMA are for rehabilitation or improvement, and determining when land will become available for rehabilitation (in respect to PMLUs) or improvement (in respect to NUMAs). EA holders will need to carefully consider each step under this criteria, as these requirements are comprehensive and require detailed planning.
Moreover, the PRCP Guideline provides insight for existing EA holders and their requirements to transition into the progressive rehabilitation regime. Specifically, the PRCP Guideline clarifies that NUMAs, regardless of whether they have been approved under a land outcome document, are still required to be managed in a way that achieves best practice management and minimises risk to the environment.
The PRCP Guideline also outlines the process for transitioning rehabilitation and closure outcomes from documents already submitted to DES (i.e. under a land outcome documents) into a proposed PRCP schedule. A six-step process is outlined, including identification of PMLUs and NUMAs, and developing rehabilitation milestones for each. The PRCP Guideline acknowledges that the degree of information required from existing EA holders will depend upon site-specific circumstances.
EA holders and applicants should carefully consider their new obligations under the PRCP Guideline. A higher evidentiary burden has been placed onto EA applicants, and a failure to comply with these conditions may result in the refusal of an EA being granted.
Although the PRCP Guideline provides useful information on general content requirements, DES has made it clear that the information necessary to support each application will vary based upon the particular characteristics of a project, and may result in a requirement for more extensive documentation or additional information. As such, EA applicants should continue to arrange pre-lodgement meetings with DES to help avoid undue delay, particularly as the new regime rolls out in the coming months.
McCullough Robertson welcomes the opportunity to advise further on requirements under the new regime, both to EA holders who are preparing for transition into the PRCP regime and those applying for new EAs.Click here to view the PRCP Guideline.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.