Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

Environment Protection Licensing

The EPA issues environment protection licences to the owners or operators of various industrial premises under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act). Schedule 1 of the POEO Act lists a broad range of activities that are regulated by environment protection licences. These licences focus on protecting the environment (including human health) and address air, noise, waste and land contamination issues as well as regulating discharges to waters from premises. Licence conditions relate to pollution prevention and monitoring, and cleaner production through recycling and reuse and the implementation of best practice. All environment protection licences are available on the EPA's public register.

When exercising its licensing functions, the EPA is required to consider any of the matters in section 45 of the POEO Act that are relevant. Along with the considerations that apply to all types of pollution there are two considerations that are specific to water pollution:

  • the environmental values of water affected by the proposed activity; and
  • practical measures that can be taken to restore or maintain those environmental values.

The EPA regulates discharges to water using conditions it places on a facility's environment protection licence. These conditions can include:

  • restricting the amount of various pollutants that can be discharged
  • requiring discharges to waters to be monitored and reported
  • requiring that pollution control equipment operates properly and efficiently.

The EPA does not use licensing to regulate every potential pollutant that could be contained in a discharge or activity. This is because some pollutants are present at such low levels in a discharge that they are highly unlikely to pose a reasonable risk of harm to human health or the environment. Also some activities are conducted in such a way that discharges to the environment are avoided - such as where an intensive agricultural activity uses an engineered runoff retention basin.

The EPA also uses a number of complementary regulatory tools to protect waterways from the impacts of pollution: these include investigations, research, monitoring and reporting programs, and public education.

For more detail about how the EPA makes its regulatory decisions and focuses its efforts on managing potential non-trivial impacts of water pollution on the environment, see the fact sheet Using environment protection licensing to control water pollution (PDF 78KB).

For more general information on licensing see the EPA's Guide to Licensing.

For information about the licensing of sewage treatment plants in NSW see - Licensing guidelines for sewage treatment plants.

Page last updated: 26 May 2015