Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

EPA Connect Newsletter

Winter - June 2015

From the CEO

EPA Chair and CEO, Barry Buffier

In this newsletter we take this opportunity to highlight some recent EPA achievements and a number of important changes experienced in the year to date.

In April we saw the appointment of Minister Mark Speakman, as the new NSW Minister for the Environment, Minister for Heritage and Assistant Minister for Planning following the March state election.

A former lawyer, Minister Speakman was born in Sydney and grew up in the Cronulla area in Sydney’s south, where he still lives today and continues in his role as Member for Cronulla. 

One of the Minister’s first major announcements has been draft legislative changes that mandates the use of lower sulphur  fuel by cruise ships, reducing the impact of diesel emissions on the community and the environment.   

The EPA received more than 200 submissions to this draft Regulation, all of which are now being considered as we finalise this very important legislative change.

Another important marker in the mid-year calendar for the EPA is the NSW Government State Budget. 

The NSW EPA’s budget has increased from $145.4 million in 2014/15 to $162.4 million in 2015/16. This includes funding of $5.6 million to support our enhanced regulatory role in the implementation of the Government’s new Gas Plan.  

Under the Gas Plan the EPA becomes the lead regulator for all compliance and enforcement of gas activities in NSW from 1 July 2015, with the exception of work health and safety.

To help prepare for our new regulatory role the EPA Board spent two days in May visiting the Santos coal seam gas operations in Narrabri to better understand the work being done there, and to meet with community members to hear first-hand their concerns and ideas on this important issue.  CSG will continue to remain an important focus for the EPA into the coming months and years ahead.

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Hunter storm clean-up

Pollution after storms hit the Hunter in April, 2015

In April this year the Hunter, Central Coast, Mid-North Coast and Sydney Metropolitan regions experienced severe weather that heavily impacted many communities.

The EPA worked closely with emergency services, local councils and businesses to manage the environmental risks and impacts associated with the extreme weather event.

“Environment protection licences take into account the risks associated with extreme weather and can include strict conditions to prevent pollution," said EPA Hunter Manager Adam Gilligan.

“The EPA requires sewage treatment plant licence holders to report all incidents to the EPA and monitor for potential pollution after incidents occur."

“However sometimes impacts can be unavoidable. During the April storms we saw power outages over several days’ impact on sewage treatment plants and sewer pump stations from the Mid-North Coast through to the Central Coast.

“The EPA worked closely with the water and sewer authorities to make sure that pollution was being managed with minimal impact on the community and environment.  The EPA also issued warnings to the public about swimming in affected waters.

“Since the storms, the EPA has been working with local councils regarding the collection, storage, processing and disposal of green waste to ensure the waste is managed in a way that does not cause any impact to the surrounding environment. 

“It is expected that increased volumes of green waste will continue to be generated and collected for some time as unsafe trees continue to be identified. The EPA will continue to work with councils in the management of these issues."

The EPA has also been regularly reviewing the capacity of landfills to receive storm damaged waste in addition to their normal waste collection services.

To further assist those impacted, the EPA has waived the waste levy. Waiving the levy recognises that individuals and businesses impacted by the severe weather are not directly responsible for the waste produced.

If residents have a concern or knowledge of a particular pollution incident in their local area they are strongly encouraged to call the 24hour Environment Line on 131 555.

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Mercury Review's positive results

Sediment testing at Botany

A two-year collaborative project between the EPA, independent experts and representatives from the community, local councils and state government has delivered positive news to the residents and workers around Botany.

Comprehensive environmental testing conducted around Botany Industrial Park and in Penrhyn Estuary has found:

  • the risk of mercury being present in soil and stormwater drains is very low
  • mercury concentrations in the sediments in Penrhyn Estuary are low
  • levels of mercury in fish in the area are all below health safety limits.

“We began the Orica Mercury Independent Review in January 2013 to determine the potential risk of mercury exposure to the environment and community resulting from past industrial practices at Orica’s former chlor-alkali plant,” said EPA Chief Environmental Regulator Mark Gifford.

“While there is still some work left to do in the Mercury Review, including testing on private land and conducting a health risk assessment, the results from both stages one and two of the review are very reassuring.

“The community can have confidence in these findings because they are the result of a comprehensive and collaborative process undertaken by the EPA, community, government and independent experts.”

To date, the project has cost approximately $500,000, which the EPA pays for and is then reimbursed by Orica. It is also the result of many hundreds of hours put in by the Steering Panel members, EPA staff and independent consultants.

"I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the Steering Panel members for working so diligently on this project to date, and to thank the community for their continued patience while we work through this process to ensure it is thorough and robust," said Mr Gifford.

A public information session was held on 3 June 2015 to present the findings of the Stage Two of the Mercury Review to the local community.

Sampling on private land is to begin in coming weeks, dependent on landholder consent, and the health risk assessment that make up Stage Three of the review will also commence shortly.

The Stage Two report and supporting materials can be downloaded from the EPA website.

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How the EPA communicates

EPA staff with members of the Newcastle Community Consultative Committee on the Environment (NCCCE)

The EPA has launched a new booklet outlining its communications and engagement objectives, principles and processes.

EPA Director Stakeholder Engagement and Governance Sylvia Bell said the aim of the booklet is to provide clarity to community, government and industry about how and when the EPA engages.

“Improving the way we communicate and consult with the general public and other key stakeholder groups is a priority for the EPA and a key result area in our Strategic Plan 2014-17,” said Ms Bell.

“This booklet is a useful resource that people can refer to when they want to know more about how and when we engage, and where they can find specific information such as how to contact us and report pollution, EPA news and information, licensee details and policies.”

The booklet includes:

  • an overview of the EPA’s roles and responsibilities
  • information about key stakeholder groups and examples of how the EPA communicates with them 
  • useful links to a range of EPA tools and policies
  • the EPA’s engagement objectives and principles

To download the booklet, visit the EPA website.

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Risk-based licensing

EPA officer Laura Anstead carrying out an inspection

An important and positive change to the state’s environment protection licensing framework takes place next month when the EPA’s risk-based licensing system commences on 1 July.

"The new system rewards organisations that have a history of compliance and good environmental performance with lower licence fees, providing an incentive to poor performing licensees to improve their environmental practices," said EPA Director Reform and Compliance David Fowler.

"This represents a significant change in the way we assess the environmental risks of industrial activities licensed by the EPA and then apply an appropriate level of regulation.

“Licensees are allocated a risk level based on our assessment of their day-to-day operations, pollution risk, compliance history and environmental practices.”

Organisations wanting to reduce their risk to the environment and take advantage of lower licence fees can endeavour to do so by establishing environmental management systems and undertaking environmental improvement programs (EIP) and environmental improvement works (EIW).

To date, 1200 of the 1900 of the organisations who hold environment protection licences in NSW have had a risk assessment by the EPA.

The risk levels allocated to each licensee will be progressively available on the public register after 1 July 2015.

Changes to licence administrative fees under risk-based licensing do not come into effect until 1 July 2016 to allow licensees time to improve their environmental performance.

Licensees who want to request a review of the risk level allocated to their activities can fill out an application form. The EPA has developed internal review guidelines to assist with this process.

A questions and answers page is available to explain the new risk-based licensing system. Key aspects of the system are also available on a fact sheet.

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Call to action for waste sector

New regulations will stop waste stockpiling.

The EPA's Director of Waste and Resource Recovery, Steve Beaman issued a call to action to the waste industry at the 2015 Waste Conference earlier this year.

Presenting the key note address at the two-day conference held in Coffs Harbour, Mr Beaman said the industry needed to improve its data reporting to avoid market failure and stamp out illegal activity across the sector.

“If we want our goal of circulating materials back into the productive economy to be taken seriously, we have to operate like any other industry and record our input and outputs. That’s why we implemented the recent Waste Regulation reforms to provide the industry with a sound platform to capture waste and recycling data at recycling centres and landfills,” he said.

Mr Beaman also outlined how lowering the threshold for stored waste under the 2014 Waste Regulation, from 1 August, will improve industry operations.

Under the lower threshold, many more businesses will be required to obtain an environment protection licence from the EPA in order to operate, and will be required to capture and record their data for annual reporting purposes.

Information collected during an EPA survey earlier this year of all facilities that are likely to need a licence under the Regulation changes revealed a serious lack of record keeping across the board.

“The EPA found that the majority of operators do not currently record or report waste movements. Some facilities even acknowledged that the waste they collect rarely leaves their site,” Mr Beaman said.

“These reforms are designed to modernise the industry and once these businesses begin recording their waste data, we will be able to better identify waste trends and market failures much more quickly.”

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Recognition for the EPA

Mark Gifford and Barry Buffier

The EPA's Chair and CEO, Barry Buffier, and Chief Environmental Regulator, Mark Gifford, have been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for their outstanding achievements in public service.

Mr Buffier has been made a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia for significant service to public administration through senior roles in the environment protection, primary industry, and state development sectors.

Mr Gifford has been awarded the Public Service Medal (PSM) for outstanding public service to environmental protection in NSW.

In accepting his award, Mr Buffier paid tribute to all EPA staff and to Mr Gifford.

"These awards reflect very positively on the organisation as a whole, and both Mark and I regard these awards as recognition of the commitment, dedication and hard work of all EPA staff,” said Mr Buffier.

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EPA Staff Profile

Principal Forestry Manager, Michael Hood

Principal Forestry Manager - Michael Hood

As Principal Manager for Forestry at the EPA, Michael Hood is passionate about protecting our forests and ensuring the activities of industry are properly regulated.

A former ranger for the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Mr Hood loves nothing more than working in the forests he is tasked to protect.

“Any day you get to work out in the forest is a good day,” said Mr Hood.

“Our forests are amazing places and we’re really privileged in the forestry section to be able to work in some of the most beautiful and sometimes incredibly remote parts of NSW.”

The EPA licenses and regulates logging activities in native forests on public and private land in NSW, and staff in the forestry section must often balance the expectations, needs and priorities of industry, local communities and conservation groups.

“There are some strongly held views in the area of native forestry, both from the industry side and from the conservation side, and while that makes the work exciting it can also present a range of challenges,” said Mr Hood.

"That’s why it is so important for the regulatory framework to be effective and for it to reflect best practice.”

In the three years since the EPA was re-established, Mr Hood has played an important role in driving some big reforms within forestry, most recently the proposed remake of the coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals (IFOAs).

The aim of the remake is to bring the four coastal IFOAs, which covers the areas of Eden, the Southern, Upper and Lower North East regions, into a single, modern regulatory framework.

“It’s important that these rules work as transparently and effectively as possible as they ensure the appropriate protection of threatened species, soil and water resources during logging activity in state forests,” Mr Hood said.

The EPA’s forestry team has been leading the consultation with industry, community and environmental groups to date on behalf of the Government and the draft IFOA document is set to be released later this year.

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EPA Stakeholder Profile

Holroyd Council, Stuart Nunn

Holroyd City Council, Senior Environmental Health Officer - Stuart Nunn

At 8am on Saturday March 28, Holroyd City Council’s Senior Environment Health Officer, Stuart Nunn knew something was wrong when opened his front door and saw a large, dark plume of smoke coming from an industrial site in Smithfield.

A few minutes later a colleague rang to say a fire had started at a local car wreckers and spread to a furniture factory.

Fires at industrial sites are not uncommon and as the state’s primary environmental regulator, the EPA works with local councils and emergency services to contain and minimise the impact such incidents can have on the surrounding environment and local community.

As the appropriate regulatory authority (ARA) in this case, Council was required to lead the investigation and clean-up.

“We started with the collection of evidence, things like water samples. A lot of firefighters use foam now and if the foam gets into the water it can cause harm to aquatic life so we wanted to make sure it was contained and the risk minimised,” Mr Nunn said.

“During the follow-up investigation, I called the EPA daily to give them updates on what work had been done and what work was planned. I also had EPA officers calling me to check in to see how things were progressing.”

With close to 20 years' experience in the Environmental Health department at Holroyd Council, Mr Nunn says his day-to-day work involves inspecting council regulated businesses and responding to environmental and public health complaints. He also carries out environmental audits of local industries and asbestos, sediment and erosion, and contaminated land investigations.

“There are a number of issues of relevance for both Holroyd Council and the EPA. Within our locality, we have a large industrial area where businesses can come and go quickly. Both tiers of government are increasingly responsible for matters such as illegal dumping and premises operating with poor environmental controls in place,” Mr Nunn said.

“There is no doubt councils need to have a good relationship with the EPA. There is such a strong crossover on the issues and you need to have a good understanding of who the key points of contact in the organisation are.”

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Regulation Reporting

Regulation Report

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 2015.

January – March 2015

REGULATORY ACTION

TOTAL

Inspections undertaken

 160

Prevention Notices issued

 4

Clean Up Actions issued

 10

Penalty Notices issued

 40

Smokey Vehicle Infringement Notices issued

 31

Noisy Vehicle Infringement Notices issued

 23

Infringement Notice for Littering from a motor vehicle issued

 498

Environmental Programs

 

Environmental Improvement Programs commenced

 5

Pollution Reduction Programs commenced

 13

Other Environmental  Programs commenced

 6*

Total worth

 Approx. $7.7million

Prosecutions

 

Prosecutions commenced

 14

Prosecutions completed

 6

Total financial penalties imposed

 $192,300

Enforceable Undertakings (EU)

 

Number of EU's imposed

 3

Total worth

 $177,000

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 history, log onto the public register. Details of the EPA’s actions in response to non-compliance are also available on the Public Register.

* Correction: When we published EPA Connect on 25 June 2015, it stated that Other Environmental Programs commenced totalled 4. This has been amended to correctly report that 6 Other Environmental Programs commenced.

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Page last updated: 06 July 2015