Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

EPA Connect Newsletter

Summer - December 2014

From the CEO

EPA Chair and CEO Barry Buffier

It is ten days til Christmas, which brings us to the final newsletter of the year!

In this edition you will read about the Government’s new Gas Plan for NSW and details of the new Protection of the Environment (Waste) Regulation 2014 which came into effect on November 1 and includes a range of reforms for the state’s waste industry.

The stakeholder profile features Botany Bay resident Lynda Newnam, who is a passionate community activist and who has engaged in environmental and legacy contamination issues in the North Botany Bay region for the past 14 years.

Upper House Parliamentary Inquiry

The final public hearing for the Upper House Parliamentary Inquiry into the EPA was held in Sydney last month.

This hearing brought to an end the public component of the inquiry process. The committee now has until 14 February 2015 to review the evidence and produce a report of findings and recommendations.

We welcome the inquiry, as an opportunity to increase public awareness and understanding about the important role we play in protecting the health of the community and environment of NSW. You can read a copy of the EPA's submission to the Inquiry here.

We work hard to ensure that the NSW environment is healthy, that communities are protected and tha businesses meet theri environmental responsibilities.

Our staff are passionate and committted to protecting the environment. I am proud of our work and achievements and consider myself ver privileged to lead such a dedicated team achieving real outcomes for the environment. 

Annual Report

The EPA’s Annual Report for 2013-14 was tabled in parliament on 13 November 2014.

The report details the EPA’s operations and achievements over the past financial year including:

  • the development of Risk-Based Licensing
  • a legislative reform program
  • delivery of waste initiatives
  • improving upon community engagement with a variety of new tools
  • maintaining a strong focus on prosecutions
  • contributing to improved planning decisions throughout NSW.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

As the end of the year approaches I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a safe, happy and healthy New Year. It has been another busy year for the EPA.

Some of the major events included:

In April we welcomed Rob Stokes as the new Minister for the Environment.

In June we found ourselves preparing for the Parliamentary Inquiry into the workings of the EPA.

The death of senior OEH regulatory officer Glenn Turner in August shocked and appalled not only the staff and management of the EPA, but the people of NSW.

We implemented our new regulatory powers in August, which have seen a ten-fold increase to the penalties for the 10 most serious environmental offences.

This year also saw the roll-out of some key environmental policies and regulation changes, including Risk-Based Licencing in July and the new Waste Regulation in November.

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NSW Gas Plan

EPA undertakes water monitoring for CSG

The Government announced the NSW Gas Plan on 13 November 2014 to set a framework for the state’s gas industry into the future.

The plan resets the Government’s approach to gas development in NSW and builds on the Independent Review of Coal Seam Gas Activities in NSW conducted by the Chief Scientist and Engineer, Professor Mary O’Kane.

All gas exploration, assessment and production activities, including conventional gas, coal seam gas, tight gas and shale gas, will require an environment protection licence issued by the EPA.

The licences will include strict site specific conditions, which licence holders must comply with in order to prevent pollution, and safeguard the environment. Details of environment protection licences and the conditions they impose are available on the EPA’s online public register.

The EPA has been the lead regulator of the environmental and health impacts of CSG activities since June 2013.

EPA Chief Environmental Regulator Mark Gifford said the EPA is pleased to be taking on the new and expanded role.

“This increase in regulatory responsibility recognises the EPA’s experience and performance in delivering effective, consistent and transparent regulation of industry,” said Mr Gifford.

“The EPA and the relevant NSW government agencies will work closely to continue to maintain clear oversight of the gas industry during the transitioning of responsibilities and whilst the EPA builds its knowledge and resources in these new areas.”

Further information about the EPA’s role is available on the EPA website. Further information about the Gas Plan is available on the Resources and Energy website.

Members of the public can report complaints or concerns about gas operations in NSW to the Environment Line on 131 555. This line operates 24 hours per day.

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Tough new waste rules

New waste rules came into effect on November 1

New rules that crack down on rogue waste operators are being introduced throughout NSW.

The staged roll-out of these new rules to improve compliance of waste facilities and waste transporters in NSW as part of the new Protection of the Environment (Waste) Regulation 2014 began on November 1 this year.

The changes, introduced over a nine-month period until August 2015, will strengthen the EPA’s regulatory controls of waste operations in a bid to improve business practices and stamp out rogue operators and illegal activities in the waste industry.

The first of these changes, now in effect, include:

  • a new proximity principle to encourage a localised approach to waste management and mitigate the environmental impacts caused by the unnecessary long-haul transport of waste;
  • new waste levy deductions for recycled and quarried materials used for the construction of roads at landfills;
  • and reduced licensing thresholds for the storage and processing of general waste and waste tyres.

Other measures that will come in to effect throughout next year include, tracking requirements for all waste leaving the metropolitan levy area outside of NSW, tracking requirements for waste tyres and asbestos, reporting requirements for all licensed waste facilities, and reforms to the waste levy framework.

EPA Chair and CEO Barry Buffier said the new regulation will target dangerous and unlawful activities in the waste industry and stop the undercutting of legitimate waste operations.

“These changes will modernise the NSW waste industry and formalise standard business practices across the sector,” Mr Buffier said.

“NSW is a leader in waste regulation and these measures continue that leadership by providing a fair business environment for legitimate operators and improving environmental and health controls of the waste industry.” 

 More information about the changes are available on the EPA website.

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EPA targets noisy vehicles

EPA officer inspects vehicle

It’s not only visible pollution that is a priority for the EPA, reducing noise pollution is keeping the EPA’s compliance officers busy - especially on the weekends.

“Excessively noisy vehicles impact on the amenity of the community, whether in their homes or enjoying an evening out,” said EPA Director of Reform and Compliance David Fowler.

“The EPA has worked with NSW Police and Roads and Maritime Service inspectors to conduct a series of operations across the metropolitan area targeting exhaust noise from vehicles this year.

“The operations are generally conducted on a weekend as this is when noisy vehicles are more prevalent.

“The EPA conducted five operations in the Kings Cross area; in February, June, July, October and November, one in Botany in August and one at Bayview on the Northern Beaches in November. In addition, our compliance officers participate in NSW police operations held to coincide with events such as the annual Summernats festival each January.

“So far in 2014 the EPA has inspected 180 vehicles at these operations, issued a total of 132 penalty notices to owners or drivers of noisy vehicles with fines totalling $30,200 and issued 153 defective vehicle notices.

“The notices were mostly issued for vehicles emitting exhaust noise over the legal limit. Some vehicles were found to be emitting noise levels similar to the levels experienced by the operator of a jackhammer.”

Vehicle owners issued with a Defective Vehicle Notice must take measures to ensure the vehicle complies with noise and air regulations. Vehicle owners face suspension of the vehicle's registration if they do not take the necessary corrective measures.

To demonstrate that the vehicle complies, the owner must present the vehicle for an exhaust noise test and inspection at an EPA approved inspection station.

In 2013-14 the EPA held 10 joint operations at various Sydney and regional locations, resulting in the issuing of 186 defective vehicle notices requiring vehicle problems to be fixed.

A Current Affair joined the EPA at one of its operations this year, and saw first-hand what happens to drivers who break the rules.  

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Fire at BlueScope Steel

The fire at BlueScope's Gas Cleaning Plant

Port Kembla’s skyline was ablaze on October 13 following a fire at BlueScope Steel’s Waste Gas Cleaning Plant.

Staff from the EPA’s Illawarra office went into immediate action to minimise the impact on air quality, community health and the environment.

The fire caused the Port Kembla fibreglass chimney to collapse, resulting in fallout material landing on nearby properties.

The EPA’s Director for the Metropolitan Region, Giselle Howard, said the fallout material was tested for more than 30 chemicals and showed there was no concern to the environment or the health of the community.

“Once the blaze was extinguished and the site declared safe by fire authorities, BlueScope approached the EPA to re-start production using an older stack,” said Ms Howard.

“Because the old stack had less rigorous emission monitoring capabilities, the EPA consulted NSW Health and relied on the independent health risk analysis from Professor Alison Jones, Clinical Toxicologist and Executive Dean at the University of Wollongong, before making the decision to allow BlueScope to re-start operations,” Ms Howard said.

“The wellbeing of the Port Kembla community was front and centre during these discussions as we wanted to ensure the appropriate safeguards were in place to protect human health and the environment at all times.”

The decision was made to allow BlueScope to restart the older Sinter Plant; however, strict conditions were placed on the company’s Environment Protection Licence to ensure adequate monitoring was carried out. Other conditions included:

  • establishment of a community consultative committee
  • the preparation of a Health Risk Assessment
  • verification of predicted emissions
  • providing air quality data to the community

Under these new licence conditions, BlueScope posts its monitoring results on its website whenever new data is available. This can be accessed via the BlueScope website

The EPA has been informed that BlueScope intend to restart operations from the new waste gas cleaning stack in January 2015.

Correction: When the EPA published EPA Connect on 15 December 2014, this article stated: The EPA has been informed that BlueScope intend to restart operations from the new waste gas cleaning stack later this month. This statement has been amended to reflect new informationt provided to the EPA that BlueScope intends to restart operations in January 2014.

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Load-based licencing review

Load-based licensing under review

Preliminary feedback from stakeholders into the EPA’s review of load-based licensing (LBL) shows strong support for the principles of the scheme, said Michele Weight, from the EPA’s Reform and Compliance Branch.

“Many licence holders indicated that the LBL scheme provides an incentive to improve their environmental performance and to uphold their corporate responsibility,” said Ms Weight.

“The scheme is an important component of the EPA’s regulatory framework. It complements other approaches such as licensing. During the review we are considering how it can be better targeted to provide a greater incentive where the evidence suggests that is required.”

A preliminary survey, sent to 167 organisations who collectively represent 270  licence holders, resulted in feedback from 42% of recipients.

The scheme has been in operation for 14 years and this review of its effectiveness and efficiency aims to ensure it is fulfilling its potential; in particular that it plays a bigger role where conventional regulatory approaches may not be producing the additional improvements that are needed.

“The initial feedback shows there are many aspects of the scheme that need to be improved, but there is also a genuine desire from licence holders to ensure the scheme is working effectively.” said Ms Weight.

The EPA will release a consultation paper in the coming months.

For more information, read the EPA’s website. To be kept informed of the progress of the LBL review, please contact the review team at LBL.Review@epa.nsw.gov.au.

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Newcastle's new air network

The air monitor at Stockton

Newcastle residents will have a clearer picture of the air quality in their local area after the EPA established the Newcastle Local Air Quality Monitoring Network earlier this year.

Modelled on the successful Upper Hunter network, the Newcastle network is made up of three new monitoring stations at Mayfield, Carrington and Stockton and three existing stations at Newcastle, Beresfield and Wallsend.

EPA Hunter Manager Adam Gilligan said the new network will not only provide residents with reliable, near real time information about air quality, it will provide a picture about air quality in the local area over the long term.

“The data we collect will assist us to establish and monitor trends, inform policies and assess the effectiveness of the EPA’s dust control programs, specifically for the Newcastle community,” Mr Gilligan said.

The monitoring stations provide up-to-date information on the PM10 dust particles commonly found from vehicles and dirt roads, as well as the finer PM2.5 dust particles found in smoke and haze. The network will also monitor sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and wind direction. The Stockton station also measures ammonia.

The network was developed following calls from the Newcastle Community Consultative Committee on the Environment (NCCCE) for an air quality network for Newcastle.

The EPA and the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) undertook a number of studies and sought advice from the NSW Health’s Air Pollution Expert Advisory Committee. The NCCCE also provided input into the selection of the new air quality monitoring locations.

The network is administered by the OEH on behalf of the EPA. OEH’s air scientist will compile the data in a quarterly report summarising the air quality trends for Newcastle and these will be available to the public via the OEH Website.

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Garage sale success

Garage Sale Trail 2014

On the last Saturday in October, communities across Australia came together to take part in the annual Garage Sale Trail.

What began as a small NSW EPA-sponsored event in Bondi in 2011 with only a handful of stalls has now become a nationwide movement, said the EPA’s Director of Waste and Resource Recovery Steve Beaman.

“Since these humble beginnings in NSW, the Garage Sale Trail has become an iconic community event that encourages people to reuse and recycle unwanted items,” said Mr Beaman

“In NSW alone this year, organisers reported that over 3,000 garage sales were registered, more than 24,000 sellers participated and close to 139,000 shoppers took part on the day.

“This was a terrific turnout and just proves the old adage that ‘one person’s trash is another person’s treasure’ is still a popular one.

“The Garage Sale Trail movement inspires people to think differently about how their unwanted household items might be re-used and encourages everyone to take a pledge not to dump these items on our streets.

“Encouraging more people to reuse and recycle and to reduce incidents of illegal dumping across the state is a priority for the EPA.”

Through the $465.7million Waste Less Recycle More program, the EPA has committed to provide financial support to local councils and community groups to help them to develop local waste reduction and recycling projects that will help to create a cleaner environment for everyone. 

Visit the Garage Sale Trail Facebook page to see a slideshow of photos from the 2014 event.

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Waste Director wins award

EPA Director of Waste and Resource Recovery, Steve Beaman

The dedication and expertise of NSW EPA staff has been recognised this month with Waste and Resource Recovery Director Steve Beaman announced as one of the winners of WME (environment business) Magazine’s 2014 Leaders List awards.

Mr Beaman won the award for leadership in the Resources and Waste category.

Steve was one of 10 National Leaders nominated and voted for by WME readers and an expert judging panel, as part of the annual awards that celebrate individual leadership in sustainability.

Steve's recognition follows a busy 12 months for the EPA’s Waste and Resource Recovery Branch, which included the roll-out of Australia’s largest ever waste package - the $465.7 million Waste Less Recycle More initiative - as well as delivery of the new Protection of the Environment (Waste) Regulation 2014.

Congratulations to Steve and all of the NSW EPA waste team for your hard work and success over this past year. You can read more about Mr Beaman’s award at the WME site here.

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EPA Staff Profile

Senior Regional Operations Officer, Jessica Creed

Senior Regional Operations Officer - Jessica Creed

When EPA regional operations officer Jessica Creed began working with the authority’s Coal Seam Gas team in 2011, there wasn’t a lot known about the industry in the community.

Now it is a hotly debated topic that often dominates regional and metropolitan news headlines.

I have seen the industry develop and evolve,” said Ms Creed, who is based in the EPA’s Armidale office.

“The EPA team is very focused on ensuring we are thorough and timely in our research, that we ensure we are hearing all sides of the issue and that we remain independent and are not drawn into any particular side of the debate.

“My role is to help in the EPA’s regulation of gas and petroleum activities, which involves day-to-day regulation of active sites, developing policy, procedures and guidelines; contributing to legislative change; being involved in interagency meetings and educational programs; community consultation and investigations.”

It is this diversity in her daily work that Ms Creed says she has always loved about working for the EPA.

Before moving to the CSG team, she worked as a regional operations officer for eight years, covering all manner of regulated industries.

“Being an operations officer is a very diverse job, and I particularly love being out in the field,” said Ms Creed.

“On any given day, I would be investigating water pollution, or a dangerous goods issue, a pesticides matter or a contaminated site.

“I enjoy knowing that at the EPA we are working towards protecting the environment and we are able to work with industry, community and government to lift the standards and performance of industries to deliver better environmental outcomes.”

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Stakeholder Profile

Community and environmental activist, Lynda Newnam

Orica Mercury Independent Review Steering Panel Community Representative - Lynda Newnam

Botany Bay resident Lynda Newnam has engaged in environmental and legacy contamination issues in the North Botany Bay region for the past 14 years.

Having carved herself a reputation as a passionate environmental activist, she was invited by the EPA to join the Orica Mercury Independent Review Steering Panel as one of two community representatives when it was established in February 2013.

The Mercury Review was set up to assess the potential for health risks to the community associated with mercury emissions from the former chlor-alkali plant at Botany Industrial Park.

The review is overseen by a steering panel, which includes the two community representatives, the EPA, Randwick and Botany councils, the Office of Environment and Heritage, NSW Health, an expert toxicologist and an independent chemical engineer.

“It is important to have community representatives closely involved in this project to provide a level of scrutiny and independence, to be the community’s eyes and ears,” said Ms Newnam.

“The role of the community representatives on the panel is to provide a community voice, to ask the questions that have plagued residents for decades and to support engagement between the community and the independent consultants contracted to undertake work as part of the Mercury Review.”

Decisions are made collectively by consensus of all panel members; a process which Ms Newnam says hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

“There have been challenges in getting agreement on some aspects of the review, but communications have improved over time and I think there is a better understanding now of issues, including the constraints.

“The Mercury Review is progressing slower than first projected, but it is more important to get it right than done quickly.”

Stage Two of the Mercury Review is currently underway.

You can follow Lynda on Twitter @LyndaNewnam

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Regulation Report

EPA 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.

July to September 2014

REGULATORY ACTION

TOTAL

Inspections undertaken

497

Prevention Notices issued

 4

Clean Up Action issued

 22

Penalty Notices issued

51

In this same period, approximately 68 PRPs were issued, worth approximately $37 million. Meanwhile, between July 2014 and September 2014, 12 prosecutions were commenced by the EPA and 35 prosecutions were completed. A total of $993,500 in financial penalties was imposed and one enforceable undertaking requiring a total of 60,000 in environmental works was 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: 31 March 2015