Welcome to EPA Connect
At the EPA, we recognise that effective two-way communication starts with us, which is why I am pleased to launch our new quarterly newsletter, EPA Connect.
EPA Connect aims to inform community members, environment groups, industry and government representatives about environmental and regulatory issues that are timely and relevant.
To ensure our articles are interesting to all our readers, we encourage you to provide feedback or tell us about the issues you most want to know about. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this edition, we explain our new risk-based licensing system, which represents a significant improvement in our regulatory framework, and our role in regulating coal seam gas activities. You'll also read about remediation works in regional areas.
Meanwhile, keep an eye out for our regular features. In each edition of EPA Connect we will profile an EPA staff member as well as a key stakeholder group, and we'll report on our latest regulatory activities.
The NSW Shadow Minister for the Environment, Luke Foley, moved on Thursday 19 June to establish a Parliamentary Inquiry into the workings of the EPA.
The aim of the inquiry is to look at how we perform against our legislated objectives and specifically the way in which we have dealt with a number of issues including contamination at Botany, coal dust in the Hunter, ground water in the Pilliga, forestry operations in Royal Camp, a pollution incident at Girraween and the regulation of cruise passenger ships at the White Bay Cruise Terminal at Balmain.
We welcome this inquiry and the opportunity to increase public awareness and understanding about the important role we play in protecting the communities and environment of NSW.
Meet the EPA Board
I'd also like to take this opportunity to introduce the EPA's independent Board, which consists of myself, as Chair, Alec Brennan, Christine Covington, Julie Savet Ward and Chris Knoblanche.
Our Board members were selected for their experience and expertise in environmental law and science; corporate, financial and risk planning and management; and their established ties to community and business groups.
To get a better understanding of what EPA staff do from day to day and the needs of all stakeholders, the Board also has regional meetings so it can meet with staff, community and government agencies, and undertake industry site visits.
You can read more about the EPA Board on the EPA website.
Meet the Environment Minister
In April this year, Rob Stokes took over the Environment portfolio. He is also Minister for Heritage, Minister for the Central Coast and Assistant Minister for Planning.
Minister Stokes has long held an interest in environmental protection and planning, heritage and sustainability; and has previously worked as a lawyer and academic in environment and planning law.
You can read more about Minister Stokes on the EPA website.
From July 2015, businesses and agencies licensed under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act will be assessed for the risk they pose to human health and the environment, and the fees they pay on their environment protection licences will be directly linked to their environmental performance.
“Under the EPA’s new risk-based licensing system, we will assess each licensed premises to identify potential environmental risks and allocate the appropriate levels of regulation,” said EPA Director Reform and Compliance David Fowler.
“Licensees with a high risk level will receive greater regulatory oversight than those who pose a low risk.
“For example, a factory with poor environmental management practices located near a residential neighbourhood and drinking water catchment is likely to carry higher risk than a similar factory in a remote area.
“Meanwhile, licensees who are good environmental performers will attract lower fees than those with poor environmental management records.”
Risk-based licensing reforms the state’s environmental regulatory framework and enables the EPA to better target high risk and poor performing licensees.
The EPA undertook comprehensive consultation with key stakeholders and the broader community before finalising the new system and the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Amendment (Licensing Fees) Regulation 2014. More than 450 people attended nine information sessions across the state late last year.
Risk-based licensing will provide all stakeholders with greater transparency and insight into the EPA’s regulatory decision-making processes and the environmental risks and performances of their industrial neighbours. For more information, visit the EPA website.
Are you a Tosser?
Did you know that most people litter something, somewhere, sometime? But the fear of disapproval and judgement by others usually leads them to litter only when they think they won’t be seen.
This is what social research tells us, and it is with that in mind that the EPA has launched its new anti-littering campaign Hey Tosser!
Based on the successful Don’t Be a Tosser campaign from the late 1990s, Hey Tosser! talks directly to litterers with taglines including “It’s a Dirty Look” and “You Know it’s Wrong”.
The first stage of the campaign was launched in April with billboard and newspaper advertisements, bin wraps, signs and radio spots across NSW. The second stage of the campaign will roll out from June.
Local councils are also spreading the Hey Tosser! message in their communities with 15 council areas awarded first round Hey Tosser! grants in 2013, and a second round of $2 million due to be given out shortly.
As part of the EPA’s $20 million commitment to tackling litter, under the Waste Less Recycle More initiative, we have also released a Litter Prevention Kit to help councils identify and target littering problems in their areas.
By working together to highlight the negative environmental and health impacts of littering, we can reduce the litter that clogs up our parks and streets.
Waste Less, Recycle More is a $465.7 million waste and recycling initiative with grants available for local councils, businesses, community groups, charities and not-for-profit organisations.
For more information about Hey Tosser! and the Local Litter Check, visit the EPA website, or see more information on the Waste Less, Recycle More program.
Triggered by community concern about coal seam gas, the NSW Government last year handed responsibility for the enforcement of environmental and health regulations of coal seam gas (CSG) activities to the EPA.
As the state’s lead environmental regulator, we welcomed the move.
“All CSG operators in the state are now required to hold an environment protection licence (EPL), and we have the power to place strict conditions on these licences to ensure licensees meet their environmental responsibilities,” said Carmen Dwyer, the EPA’s Special Project Manager Coal Seam Gas, based in Dubbo.
“We are working with industry to ensure it has the right checks and balances in place to avoid incidents, but when there is a compliance breach we have a range of regulatory tools such as warnings, strict licence conditions and enforceable undertakings we can implement to ensure companies meet their environmental responsibilities.”
The EPA has received additional resources to recruit dedicated specialist and operational CSG staff who work closely with the scientists from the Office of Environment and Heritage.
Our staff are regionally based to ensure they understand local issues and can respond quickly to any environmental matters.
Meanwhile, we have conducted reviews of existing CSG activities in NSW that require an EPL, to better understand potential environmental impacts and to develop the most credible, rigorous and responsive licence conditions that are appropriate for each activity.
See the EPA’s FAQs on regulation of coal seam gas for more information.
Wagga gasworks remediation
The site of a former gasworks in Wagga Wagga is being cleaned up at a cost of $12 million, making it one of the most expensive remediation projects ever undertaken by a regional council in NSW.
The Tarcutta Street Gasworks operated between 1818 and 1964, and the site was remediated in the 1970s. However, over time tar and other contaminants migrated from the site under a nearby recreational area and into the Murrumbidgee River.
The impact to the river was unacceptable and needed to be addressed, leading the EPA to declare the gasworks a remediation site in 2007.
The Environmental Trust and the EPA, through the Council Gasworks Program, has provided over $1 million in grants to assist Wagga Wagga City Council with the investigation and clean-up works, which began in 2007.
“The Tarcutta Street Gasworks is one of the most significant remediation projects ever undertaken by a council in a regional area and I congratulate the council on their investment so far and the commitment they have given to the local community,” said EPA Manager Contaminated Sites Niall Johnston.
The Tarcutta Street site will be redeveloped and returned for public use, and it is expected that the recreational area will be reopened to the community at the end of this year.
Since it began in 2005, the Environmental Trust Council Gasworks Program has provided $6.75million in funding for 38 grants* to 16 local council areas including Bowral, Cootamundra, Deniliquin and Hay.
* Correction: When the EPA published EPA Connect on 26 June 2014, it stated that funding had been provided to 38 local council areas. This has been amended to correctly report that 38 grants were provided to 16 local council areas.
Hunter Water Corp upgrade
Hunter Water Corporation is improving the quality of water for the community at Burwood Beach by upgrading its wastewater treatment works.
The EPA has issued a pollution reduction program (PRP) requiring Hunter Water Corporation to install an ultraviolet disinfection plant at Burwood Beach Wastewater Treatment Works by 23 November 2016.
The disinfection plant, expected to cost $20 million, will provide an additional treatment process to remove viruses from wastewater before it is discharged into the ocean.
PRPs such as this are legally enforceable and are either voluntarily entered into or directed by the EPA to be undertaken to reduce pollution or environmental harm.
PRPs are just one of a number of regulatory tools the EPA uses to achieve compliance and drive improved environmental performance by licensees. Other tools include penalty notices, formal warnings, licence conditions, notices and directions, mandatory audits, enforceable undertakings and prosecutions.
For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy.
See the Regulation Report in this newsletter to see a summary of the EPA's recent regulatory actions.
Peter Bloem, EPA Manager Illawarra
As the manager of the EPA’s Illawarra section, I lead a 10-strong operational team which is responsible for regulating industry in and around the Wollongong and Southern Highlands area.
We licence a diverse range of activities, including the Port Kembla Steelworks, hard rock quarries, underground coal mines, an oil refinery and various agricultural industries.
It is the diversity of my role, and the challenge of balancing the needs of community, government and industry that makes it interesting.
Being an effective, credible and visible regulator is important to me and the work we do; not only in terms of protecting and enhancing our beautiful and unique local environment, but because I live and work here.
I have been a resident of the Wollongong area for nearly 35 years and have worked for the EPA for over 20 of those.
Port Kembla Copper stack felling
February 20 2014 was a work day I will never forget, because it was the day the iconic Port Kembla Copper stack was demolished.
This was a highly specialised activity because its proximity to residences demanded a high level of protection for the environment and public safety.
Regulation of the demolition project was led by the Department of Planning under a major project approval, but the EPA played a key role in ensuring Port Kembla Copper had appropriate measures in place to protect the community.
We also helped keep the community informed through our work with the Interagency Working Group and attendance at various community meetings.
For more information about the stack felling, see the EPA website.
Newcastle Community Consultative Committee on the Environment (NCCCE)
The growth in coal mining activities in the NSW Hunter Valley has seen expansion to the Newcastle Port and increased train movements along the rail corridor, heightening community concern about the impact to the environment and human health.
It is this community concern, particularly around air quality, and the EPA’s recognition of the importance of two-way engagement with local residents that led to the establishment of the Newcastle Community Consultative Committee on the Environment (NCCCE) in 2011.
“We have developed long-term relationships with communities in the Hunter, allowing us to share information and discuss new or emerging issues of concern,” said EPA Director North Branch Gary Davey.
The NCCCE, established by former Environment Minister Robyn Parker, has played an important role in raising issues of concern around air quality in Newcastle, said NCCCE Chair former Newcastle Lord Mayor John Tate.
“NCCCE members are a successful blend of community and industry. The committee has worked together well to operate by consensus and since its inception has made solid progress,” said Mr Tate.
“One of the major achievements of the committee has been the announcement that the Lower Hunter air quality monitoring network will be up and running by August this year. A primary goal has always been to get information about air quality in the Hunter.”
The NCCCE has held several successful community workshops to discuss air quality studies and programs.
“There is now a list of studies looking at dust deposition, particle characterisation, non-road diesel emissions and so on. The major challenge is to get the information from these studies into an accessible format for the community. The committee will continue to play a role in this.”
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 January to March 2014.
January to March 2014
| REGULATORY ACTION
|| TOTAL ISSUED
| Prevention Notice
| Clean Up Action
| Penalty Notices
In this same period, approximately 40 PRPs were issued. Meanwhile, between July 2013 and March 2014, 73 prosecutions were commenced by the EPA and 50 prosecutions were completed. A total of $422,050 in financial penalties was imposed and three enforceable undertakings requiring a total of $280,000 in environmental works were agreed.
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.