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Member Information: Federal EPBC Act reform

23 May 2024 3:33 PM | Zacharie Nichols-Lang (Administrator)

The Federal Government's planned overhaul of Commonwealth Environmental Laws, including the establishment of a National Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), continues to face delays. It’s been reported this decision was influenced by pressure from the WA Government, which expressed concerned about the potential for local backlash.

Current regulatory frameworks cause significant delays and productivity losses for contractors and principals awaiting project approvals. The proposed National EPA aims to streamline approval processes, including for renewable energy infrastructure projects, facilitating the path to net zero emissions by 2050. These reforms are poised to significantly impact the civil industry; we need clearer information regarding stages of implementation and how new regulations will affect their operations. CCF will continue to work toward achieving this clarity, remaining actively engaged in briefings and providing updates as more information becomes available. Members can expect further details on the consultation process, legislative review plan, and any roadmap to 2050. 

Below are summaries of the five key areas comprising the reforms:

Establishment of a National Environment Protection Agency

A national EPA would issue permits, oversee project assessments, and enforce federal environmental regulations. It would ensure compliance with National Environmental Standards and possess enforcement powers akin to the Federal Police commissioner. The EPA could issue stop-work orders and audit businesses for environmental law compliance. Serious breaches could result in fines up to $780 million and seven-year jail terms. However, clarity is needed regarding Ministerial call-in powers. The current drafting allows Ministerial intervention without providing crucial information to project proponents. A mandatory advisory panel, comprising industry, scientists, environmentalists, traditional owners, and community representatives, should be established. Additionally, the Minister must consider various factors before making decisions.

Environment Information Australia (EIA)

EIA will provide independent environmental data to inform national decision-making, with information also being publicly available. New laws will appoint an independent head to oversee data accessibility, State of the Environment reporting, environmental-economic accounts, and trend tracking.

Regional plans

Regional Plans will use a traffic light system to classify areas by environmental value. Green Zones, with little to no environmental value, will generally permit development. Yellow Zones, with some environmental value, will require additional measures, with some projects possibly blocked. Red Zones, with high environmental value, will impose significant conditions, preventing most projects.

Restoration actions and contributions (formerly offsets) reform

These reforms aim to transform environmental offset systems for environmental gains and project efficiency. Proponents must fully compensate for significant impacts via restoration activities or contributions. The National Environmental Standard for Restoration Actions and Contributions will provide clarity on compensation rules.

Nature Positive Environmental Standards

New laws will include powers for the Minister to make National Environmental Standards and set out how standards apply to key decisions under the new laws. These new laws aim to preserve the natural environment while also reducing impediments to development by clarifying requirements and streamlining accreditation.

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Email: General enquiries

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Jandakot WA 6164

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