From the CEO
Welcome to the March edition of EPA Connect – the first for 2015.
In this edition you will read how information from local residents helped an EPA noise investigation and about the new fines people now face if caught littering from vehicles.
We also profile Sharon Owens from the EPA’s litter team, and Tony Khoury, the Executive Director of the Waste Contractors and Recycling Association.
Upper House Inquiry Recommendations
In February this year the Upper House Parliamentary Inquiry into the performance of the NSW EPA handed down its findings. We welcome the report which found we are performing the majority of our functions in keeping with our objectives but that improvements could be made in the areas of accountability, stakeholder engagement and governance.
A copy of the report is available on the NSW Parliament website.
The NSW Government has until 13 August 2015 to provide its response to the committee.
Help report litter bugs!
On 1 March 2015 the EPA introduced new fines for the public reporting of littering from vehicles in NSW.
Anyone with a mobile phone or internet access can help us achieve our target of becoming the least littered state because they can now report people they see throwing rubbish from their vehicles.
EPA Manager of Litter Prevention Sharon Owens said the new system is about ramping up litter enforcement and is based on similar schemes already running successfully in other states.
“I think people have had enough of litter on our roads and in our parks and waterways, and are prepared to call out litterbugs who show little regard for our environment or fellow citizens," said Ms Owens.
“The new system is currently receiving an average of 30 reports of littering from vehicles a day, with litterbugs receiving a minimum $250 fine.
“I think this really shows that littering is not acceptable behaviour in our society."
The NSW Government has dedicated $20 million to tackling litter as part of the $465.7 million Waste Less Recycle More initiative.
To start reporting litter from vehicles to the EPA download the Report Pollution app or visit the EPA website.
NSW Gas Plan update
The EPA and the relevant NSW government agencies, led by the Department of Premier and Cabinet are implementing the NSW Gas Plan which was announced in November 2014.
Under the Plan, which sets a new framework for the state’s gas industry into the future, the EPA becomes the lead regulator for compliance and enforcement of conditions of approval for all gas activities.
Gas exploration, assessment and production titles and activities, once approved in the planning process, are now required to hold an environment protection licence issued by the EPA. This includes other types of gas production and not just coal seam gas which the EPA already had a role in regulating.
In December 2014 the Protection of the Environment Operations Amendment (NSW Gas Plan) Regulation 2014 was established, which requires all current gas activities to hold an environment protection licence.
"This new regulation aligns the environmental regulation of all petroleum activities with the amendments that were made in 2013 to better regulate coal seam gas activities," said Carmen Dwyer the Director of the EPA's Gas Implementation Team.
"It gives the EPA direct regulatory oversight of gas operations and ensures effective, consistent and transparent regulation of the gas industry," said Ms Dwyer.
The EPA has established an implementation team to oversee the execution of the EPA’s responsibilities under the Gas Plan. The team is currently coordinating projects, including writing environment protection licences, developing inspection programs, preparing information for the public and making legislative amendments.
The EPA has also written to all 40 existing petroleum title holders in the state informing them that they need to apply for an environment protection licence, or a variation to their existing licence, by 19 March 2015.
Environment protection licences do not provide the approval for gas operators to conduct an activity. A licence can only apply to already approved operations and contains legally enforceable site specific conditions, which holders must comply with in order to prevent and minimise pollution, and safeguard the environment.
Approvals for petroleum exploration are overseen by the Division of Resources and Energy. Approvals for petroleum production are overseen by NSW Planning and Environment.
Community help investigation
A recent series of noise complaints at Botany has highlighted the important role the community can play in assisting the EPA in its investigations.
In December last year, the EPA began receiving reports through Environment Line 131 555 of an alarm affecting residents in a localised area of Botany.
The callers mentioned this was a new problem, and the EPA noted it was an area not often the subject of noise complaints, said James Goodwin from the EPA’s Sydney Industry Section.
“We visited the area to investigate activities near the callers’ homes as a potential source of the noise, but we were unable to identify sounds matching the description given by the callers,” said Mr Goodwin.
“We hadn’t considered Port Botany as a likely source of the noise as it was much further away from the callers’ homes than other industrial sites.
“We gathered more information and liaised with the callers who were able to provide us with sound files, diarised notes and locations at Port Botany where they believed the noise was coming from.
“Based on this additional information, we contacted the lessor of Port Botany, NSW Ports, and together we identified the source to be an alarm at the rail siding at Patrick Port Botany Container Terminal.”
The EPA and NSW Ports liaised with Patrick to identify options to address the issue. This has resulted in the company reducing the number and sound levels of the alarm’s speakers to help mitigate the impact on the surrounding community.
“The community’s involvement and the cooperation of NSW Ports and Patrick in this issue went a long way to helping us identify the noise source and rectifying the problem,” said Mr Goodwin.
“Our job was also made much easier by the community’s willingness to provide detailed information describing the noise and possible source.”
The EPA recognises there is community concern about current levels of port and industry noise from the Port Botany precinct, and is working with relevant organisations to establish a framework for investigating how noise from the port can be managed now and into the future.
The EPA, local councils, NSW Police, Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) and a number of other organisations receive and manage noise complaints, but in the first instance any source of noise pollution can be reported to the 24/7 Environment Line 131 555.
EPA staff profile
Litter Prevention Program Manager - Sharon Owens
The EPA’s Sharon Owens is playing a pivotal role in changing people’s attitudes to littering in NSW and in encouraging others to do the same.
In the three years since the EPA was re-established, Ms Owens and her team of five have established a number of influential state-wide litter programs that call on people to think about what they leave behind and to report litter bugs.
“Last year the EPA launched its state-wide advertising campaign - Hey Tosser! A campaign which targeted those people who think it’s okay to leave their rubbish behind in a park, on the street or at the beach.
From April 6, television commercials will air, supported by additional radio advertising and a digital campaign, highlighting the need for everyone to be litter aware and to take responsibility.
“In February the EPA rolled out the reporting litter from vehicles tool, which means everyone can now have a role in reporting incidents of littering to the EPA,” said Ms Owens.
“Our aim is that the new reporting tool will see a decrease in littering behaviour and encourage people to think twice about tossing rubbish out of their vehicle. Every piece of litter has a consequence, and not just because you now risk receiving a fine.”
With a background in law and policy, Ms Owens finds this work in behaviour change challenging and exciting.
“Behaviour change is at the core of tackling the issues of littering,” she said.
“It is my role to inform, educate and help create long-term behaviour change across NSW. Putting rubbish in the bin or taking it with you needs to be normal, everyday behaviour for every individual.
“It is important that we help residents, local councils, community groups, small business and industry to tackle local litter issues. Providing them with the tools and information they need to make the change possible is an important part of the litter prevention challenge."
“These are exciting times for the EPA’s litter team, not only with what the EPA has achieved, but with what NSW councils, community groups and individuals are doing to create a culture where littering is not accepted."
To start reporting litter from vehicles - download the Report Pollution app or visit the EPA website.
Executive Director of Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association NSW - Tony Khoury
Tony Khoury, Executive Director of Waste Contractors and Recyclers Association of NSW (WCRA), believes an open relationship between the waste industry and the EPA is critical to a successful future for the industry.
“Waste management and recycling businesses have strict laws and rules that they must navigate in their day-to-day operations,” Mr Khoury said.
“It is important for us to work well with the EPA, because best practice measures and environmental policy make the industry stronger, businesses stronger and maximise the potential for resource recovery,” he said.
“In recent times, WCRA has participated in a number of EPA initiatives including the waste tyres working group, charitable recyclers reference group, the technical assessment panel on e-waste and the asbestos protocol in C&D (construction and demolition) waste,” he said.
“If the EPA is looking for information or advice on certain issues, like illegal waste disposal, we volunteer our time.”
WCRA is also contracted by the EPA to deliver waste and resource recovery training workshops to its members as part of the “Waste Less, Recycle More” initiative.
“Regular training is essential for our members to better comply with statutory requirements, to obtain better resource recovery outcomes and to grow their respective businesses,” said Mr Khoury.
He said that while WCRA and the EPA don’t always agree on policy, both parties recognise the importance that a good relationship between the two has on influencing statutory compliance by businesses, waste recovery outcomes and the health of the industry.
“Even though we have points of difference with the EPA, our relationship with them is always professional and open.”
*WCRA is a registered industrial body of employers that has represented the waste management sector in NSW since 1948.
The EPA has many regulatory tools it uses to achieve environmental compliance. The following table provides a tally of the regulatory actions undertaken by the EPA across the state from October to December 2014.
October – December 2014
Prevention Notices issued
Clean Up Action issued
Penalty Notices issued
In this same period, approximately 101 pollution reduction programs (PRPs) were issued, worth approximately $81.1 million. Meanwhile, between October and December 2014, 9 prosecutions were commenced by the EPA and 15 prosecutions were completed. A total of $127,780 in financial penalties were imposed and one enforceable undertaking requiring a total of $200,000 in environmental works was agreed to.
For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy.
To see an operator’s environment protection licence and their compliance with the conditions, or the EPA’s responses to instances of non-compliance, log onto the public register. Details of the EPA’s actions in response to non-compliance are also available on the Public Register.