Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

EPA Connect Newsletter

Spring - September 2014

From the CEO

Barry Buffier, Chair and Chief Executive Officer,  NSW EPA

We have had some positive feedback following the release of the first edition of the EPA Connect newsletter in June 2014.

I want to thank those subscribers who have taken the time to provide us with their feedback and comments. You can email your thoughts and suggestions to epa.connect@epa.nsw.gov.au.

In this edition, you’ll read about the increased penalties that organisations and individuals now face if they break environmental laws, and the details of a landmark prosecution that the EPA won against chemical company Orica.

We also profile a new member of the EPA’s Hunter team, as well as Jeff Angel, a well-known environmental campaigner.

Environmental Officer Glen Turner

The news of the shooting death of environmental officer Glen Turner while he was working in Moree has had a significant impact on individual staff at the EPA, and on our organisation as a whole.

Glen, who worked for the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) in the combined OEH/EPA Armidale office, was a valued colleague, a good friend and a man with great empathy. His wealth of knowledge and experience will be sorely missed.

The particular circumstances of Glen’s death are both shocking and deplorable, and it is a reminder to us all of the challenges that frontline environmental officers face every day.

We recognise that community, environment groups, government and business often have diverse and sometimes conflicting interests and concerns, but it is a sad day when those conflicting interests result in the death of a man who was simply doing his job.

Parliamentary Inquiry

Last month we presented our submission to the Upper House 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 invite anyone with an interest in the inquiry to read our detailed submission, which outlines the EPA’s role and approach to environmental issues and the changes it has introduced to environmental regulation since it became an independent authority in 2012.

Public hearings will be held on 13 October, 10 November and 24 November, with the final report due in February 2015.

We welcome this opportunity to increase public awareness and understanding about the important role we play in protecting the evironment and communities of NSW.

Barry Buffier, EPA Chair and CEO

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Remembering Glen Turner

Environmental officer Glen Turner

On Wednesday 30 July 2014, staff from the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and the EPA woke to the shocking news that one of their colleagues, environmental officer Glen Turner, had been killed while working out in the field. 

Mr Turner was shot while carrying out his duties with a colleague, inspecting properties at Croppa Creek, north of Moree. Details of the incident are now under a NSW police investigation.

Mr Turner was a Senior Compliance Officer in North West Region, North Branch, working predominately with staff at the EPA/OEH office in Armidale.

EPA Manager Armidale Region Simon Smith said Mr Turner was one of the department’s most experienced and hard-working compliance officers.

“Glen was a respected and well-liked colleague and friend to many. He was an extremely hardworking man,” said Mr Smith.

“Known as a perfectionist in the office, he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind and would always be one of the first to offer advice or assistance to anyone who asked.

“Outside of work, Glen was passionate about his family, his friends, his farm at Dungowan, protecting the environment and understanding people and their ideas.

“He enjoyed sharing good food, red wine and was always looking for the best coffee and home brew recipes.”

Mr Turner grew up at Telegraph Point near Kempsey and was a registered surveyor.

He joined the NSW public service in 2000 working first with the Department of Natural Resources before joining the Office of Environment and Heritage in 2007(then the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water).

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Increased Penalties

EPA General Penalty Notice

The EPA has increased the penalties for a number of the most serious environmental offences, making them the highest penalty notice fines in Australia.

The changes see, in some cases, up to a ten-fold increase in fines for the most serious environmental offences, which include the pollution of water, illegal disposal of asbestos or hazardous waste and operating without a licence.

For the most serious offences, penalty notice amounts will increase from:

  • $1500 to $15,000 for corporations
  • $750 to $7500 for individuals

For another 19 penalty offences, amounts have increased from $1500 to $8000 for a corporation and from $750 to $4000 for individuals.

In addition, the fines for penalty notices issued by local councils for six serious environmental offences have increased to:

  • $4000 for corporations, from $1500 and
  • $2000 for an individual, from $750.

“Under the recent changes, these fines better reflect community expectations and provide a deterrent to reoffending,” said David Fowler, Director of Reform and Compliance for the EPA.

“The EPA makes regulatory decisions aimed at dealing with environmental impacts, achieving compliance and improving environmental performance,” Mr Fowler said.

The EPA’s Compliance Policy sets out the factors that inform regulatory decisions, including the degree of environmental harm, whether or not there are any real or potential health impacts, if the action of the offender was deliberate, compliance history, public interest and best environmental outcomes.

To find out about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the Compliance Policy. For further details about the penalty notice increases, visit the EPA website.

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People Matter Survey

People Matter Employee Survey 2014

Earlier this year, staff from government agencies across the state were invited to participate in the Public Service Commission’s People Matter Employee Survey 2014 (PMES) to answer questions about workplace values and experiences.

“We are committed to being a world class regulator and an exemplar organisation, so we are pleased to report that feedback from the Public Service Commission suggests the EPA has done well in this year’s survey and is a healthy organisation,” said EPA Chair and CEO Barry Buffier.

“The EPA scored better than average for the NSW Public Service on 99 of the 106 measures surveyed. In addition, it has highlighted several areas where management can improve, so we will actively look at addressing these issues.”

Seventy-five percent of EPA staff participated in the survey, so the results are very representative of what our staff think.

The survey found:

  • On the seven questions measuring Integrity, the EPA score was 87.5% compared with the survey average of 74.5%
  • Ninety-one percent of staff believe that we have procedures and systems to ensure objective decision making, 14% higher than the survey average
  • Eighty-seven percent of staff thought the EPA helped them achieve a work life balance, 23% higher than the rest of the sector
  • Eighty-three percent of EPA staff say they are proud to tell others they work for the EPA.

“These results would not have been possible without highly dedicated and professional staff and a work environment with values embedded throughout the agency that support a healthy organisation,” said Mr Buffier. 

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Orica Penalised $768,250

Orica's Kooragang Island plant

The NSW Land and Environment Court sentenced Orica Australia on 28 July 2014 for pollution incidents at Orica’s Kooragang Island and Botany plants, handing down the largest penalty to a company for a series of prosecutions brought by the EPA.

Orica was convicted and penalised $768,250 and was also required to pay the EPA’s investigation and legal costs.

“The sentence is a good outcome for the environment and the people of Newcastle and Botany. I am particularly pleased that the penalty will fund projects of benefit to the local environment and those impacted communities,” said EPA Chair and CEO Barry Buffier.

The court ordered that the fine be paid to fund seven projects in Newcastle and one at Botany aimed at restoring and enhancing the environment including: 

  • The Hunter River Health Monitoring Program
  • The Lower Hunter Particle Characterisation Study
  • The Stockton Cycleway Revegetation Works
  • The Restoration of Kooragang Dykes
  • The Tomago Wetland Rehabilitation Project – Stage 3
  • The Pitt Street Reserve Public Domain Enhancement
  • The Bush Regeneration Project for Sir Joseph Banks Reserve

“The sentence sends a clear message about the intent of the EPA and that local communities deserve better from their industrial neighbours,” Mr Buffier said.

“The EPA’s prosecution of Orica involved thorough investigationsby EPA operational staff, specialist investigators, expert scientific officers and the legal team, into the pollution incidents that occurred from October 2010 to December 2011 .

“The EPA will continue to monitor Orica’s environmental performance and will take a tough stance against any industry that pollutes the environment and disregards the health of their neighbours.”

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Auditor-General's Report

Remediation work carried out at the former Cootamundra Gasworks. Photo courtesy of Cootamundra Shire Council.

A NSW Auditor-General’s Report that was handed down in July this year has helped the EPA identify areas where it can improve its processes in managing contaminated sites.

EPA Manager Contaminated Sites Niall Johnston said contaminated land can include old gasworks, service stations with leaking fuel storage systems and industrial sites where chemicals and metals have leached into the ground.

“The regulation and clean-up of contaminated land can involve environmental legacies of 100 years ago as well as environmental issues of today. It is a complex and challenging space, so we always welcome new ideas and innovative approaches that can improve our processes and the work we are doing,” said Mr Johnston.

In particular, the EPA supports the Auditor-General’s recommendation to develop, in consultation with other key government land-holding agencies, guidelines on how to better identify and manage contaminated sites when purchasing or leasing land on behalf of the community.  

Many of the other recommendations outlined in the Managing Contaminated Sites report were already being undertaken by the EPA or are part of its ongoing process of improvement.

“One example of work already underway is an integrated data management system, which will be operational by June 2015,” said Mr Johnston.

”This will improve the tracking of existing regulated sites and provide greater transparency for the community on industry performance in meeting site remediation deadlines.

“In the future, we will have a digital map on the website designating all the regulated sites and people will be able to ‘zoom in’ to learn more about each site.”

Other recommendations from the report include:

  • The EPA’s proposal to extend the mechanism for cost recovery under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act to the Contaminated Land Management Act to recover costs for those sites that require additional work because of their complexity or the non-cooperation of owners/polluters
  • Updated procedures around the Duty to Notify the EPA about contamination; and
  • An enhanced website for better public access to information on contaminated land management and the status of listed contaminated sites.

Recommendations from the Audit Office of NSW have staged due dates ranging from December 2014 to December 2015.

The Audit Office of NSW undertakes performance audits of government agencies to review whether taxpayers’ money is spent efficiently, economically and in accordance with the law. The Managing Contamined Sites report can be found on the website of the Audit Office of NSW.

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Fourth RID Squad

Minister Rob Stokes at the launch of a RID Squad

Ten new councils have joined forces against illegal dumping with the official launch of the state’s fourth Regional Illegal Dumping (RID) squad in Lake Macquarie last month.

The Hunter-Central Coast RID Squad joins the Inner West RID Squad launched earlier this year, the Illawarra RID program, and the Western Sydney RID Squad which has operated in Sydney’s western suburbs for more than 10 years.

Molly Tregoning, EPA Illegal Dumping Co-ordinator, said that 28 councils are now involved across the four RID Squads, which are supported by $1.5m in funding this financial year from the NSW Government’s Waste Less, Recycle More waste program.

“RID Squads are a great way of pooling councils’ resources and knowledge to tackle illegal dumping in local hotspots,” Ms Tregoning said.

“With the support of the EPA, they are the eyes and ears on the ground to help clean up and prevent illegal dumping instances and roll out education and information campaigns that are specifically tailored for their local communities.

“The EPA is committed to addressing illegal dumping across the state, which is why we have dedicated $58 million from Waste Less, Recycle More to support our Illegal Dumping Strategy that identifies 21 initiatives to tackle dumping including expanding the reach of RID Squads.

“The EPA is also pleased to support 23 councils who are participating in another of these initiatives, the Householder’s Asbestos Disposal Scheme trial, which is waiving the waste levy and reducing the cost for registered home renovators to dispose small amounts of asbestos to make it easier to do the right thing with asbestos waste.”

More details about the RID Squads and the asbestos trial, including participating councils, is available on the EPA’s Waste Less, Recycle More webpage.

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Radiation Compliance

UV tanning unit

A ban on cosmetic UV tanning services comes into effect on 31 December 2014 following a series of reforms in radiation legislation.

“NSW was the first jurisdiction to announce a ban on cosmetic UV tanning services,” said Craig Lamberton, EPA Director of Hazardous Incidents and Environmental Health.

“From 31 December 2014, the EPA will commence a compliance program aimed at registered businesses to identify if they are complying with the ban and have decommissioned their UV tanning units.”

This program is one of a number of changes to the Radiation Control Regulation, which commenced on 1 July 2013. Another of these changes includes new radiation security measures.

“The EPA is responsible for ensuring that those involved with radioactive substances are accountable and comply with the laws that ensure a safe environment when handing radioactive substances,” said Mr Lamberton. 

“We regulate radiation in sectors such as health, industry, construction and education. Commonwealth agencies regulate the Lucas Heights reactor and telecommunications including mobile phone towers.

“More broadly, the EPA’s compliance activities target areas of higher risk.  In 2014-15, these areas will include radiation oncology, industrial radiography and distribution of radiopharmaceuticals.

“Through our compliance programs, we want to ensure individuals and industry using radiation take responsibility and comply with the relevant laws and regulations.”

For more information about the role the EPA has in administering the Radiation Control Act and Regulation visit the EPA website.

To report any suspected radiation incidents, contact the Environment Line 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 131 555.  For concerns about mobile phone towers, contact the Australian Communication and Media Authority at Licensing@acma.gov.au

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Service Station Inspections

Flammable liquid sign

Underground Petroleum Storage Systems (UPSS) are used at most service stations and fuel depots across the state, and are considered a significant potential source for contamination in NSW.

To help manage this, the EPA regularly conducts joint inspections with local councils to ensure operators know the rules and their responsibilities in terms of preventing and managing this kind of contamination.

Officers from the EPA and Wyong Shire Council carried out UPSS inspections in Wyong in August 2014 to check that underground tanks weren’t leaking and that accurate maintenance and safety records were being kept.

“If not managed correctly, leaks from these tanks can pose a risk to the environment, contaminating local soil and water resources,” said EPA Director of Hazardous Incidents and Environmental Health Craig Lamberton.

“The fuel can also leak into nearby stormwater drains, sewers and service trenches making it unsafe for workers to access for maintenance and repairs.”

It is the responsibility of service station owners to report a leak immediately to the EPA, and a failure to do so could result in a $44,000 fine.

Operators are also responsible for covering the cost of any clean-up when a leak occurs.

Mr Lamberton said these clean-ups often run into millions of dollars, which not only has an impact on the bottom line of many small businesses but can impact on land values and future redevelopment in the area.

“Working in partnership provides local and state governments with the opportunity to share information and resources,” he said.

“It gives council staff the chance to improve their own skills so they know what to look for when carrying out their own local inspections in the future.”

The UPSS inspection program forms part of the EPA’s ongoing compliance campaign to manage contamination and environmental incidents in NSW.

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EPA Profile

Regional Manager Hunter Area, Adam Gilligan

New manager for Hunter region - Adam Gilligan

The EPA’s team in the Hunter have welcomed the arrival of new manager, Adam Gilligan.

Based in Newcastle, Mr Gilligan heads a team of 25 staff dedicated to managing environmental impacts from mining and industry, such as air quality, and responding to incidents as they occur.

Mr Gilligan is no stranger to the EPA, having worked closely with the agency as a member of the Orica Start up Committee and the Newcastle Community Consultative Committee on the Environment (NCCCE).

“I’m looking forward to the challenges ahead, and in particular, to working with the team to deliver on new programs including risk-based licensing,” said Mr Gilligan, who joined the EPA in July 2014.

“There are many great projects underway to address air quality in the Hunter, and I’m keen to be a part of their delivery.”

Mr Gilligan has joined the EPA from Newcastle City Council, where he worked as an Environment Protection Officer. For the past five years, he was the Compliance Services Manager at the Council, responsible for environment protection, environmental health, food surveillance, development compliance, fire safety, rangers and parking regulation.

Having also worked as Council’s Local Emergency Management Officer and with 20 years’ experience as a member of a Rural Fire Brigade, Mr Gilligan also has experience in incident management.

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Stakeholder Profile

Total Environment Centre Executive Director and Boomerang Alliance National Convenor Jeff Angel

Boomerang Alliance and Total Environment Centre - Jeff Angel

As one of the best-known environmental campaigners in Australia, Total Environment Centre (TEC) Executive Director and Boomerang Alliance National Convenor Jeff Angel advocates for solutions to some of Australia’s bigger environmental issues.

With 30 years’ experience as an environmental campaigner, Mr Angel’s voice is a strong and influential one, said EPA’s Director Waste and Resource Recovery Steve Beaman.

“The EPA, in partnership with the Boomerang Alliance, has held two summits with the tyre industry since November 2013, and Mr Angel’s advocacy really helped push awareness of the issue and the need for action,” said Mr Beaman.

The focus of both the Boomerang Alliance and the TEC is addressing key environmental issues, including illegal waste disposal and pollution.

“The EPA and its forerunner the State Pollution Control Commission have gone through a number of cultural changes, including how proactive they are against big industry polluters and being able to prosecute state agencies,” said Mr Angel.

“TEC was very active when the EPA was established in the 1990s, calling for a green defender.  We still want them to fully enact this today.

"More recently the EPA has entered a more aggressive era, and we (the TEC) and the Boomerang Alliance have been very pleased to work with the EPA on the illegal tyre industry to stop the dumpers and the diversion of supply from legitimate recyclers who want to create more employment in the state.

“The new waste regulations, with their advanced tracking provisions, termination of the transport licence - used by dodgy operators as proxy EPA accreditation - and increased fines are a welcome step. So too are the moves on unregulated particulate emissions.

"While we perhaps have a closer appreciation of what the EPA is up to, it is true to say that it still has a way to go to earn the full trust of the wider community. 

“You have to be so careful to not appear as a friend of industry but as a strong, independent regulator defending the community's environment and health.” 

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Regulation Report

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 April to June 2014.

 April to June 2014

REGULATORY ACTION TOTAL ISSUED
Inspections undertaken 306
Prevention Notices issued 4
Clean Up Actions issued 4
Penalty Notices issued 73

In this same period, approximately 115 pollution reduction programs (PRPs) were issued. Meanwhile, between July 2013 and June 2014, 90 prosecutions were commenced by the EPA and 59 prosecutions were completed. A total of $534,970 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.

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Page last updated: 13 October 2014