Environment Protection Authority

Legislative framework and functions

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is established by the Environment Protection Act 1997 (the Act). As a statutory position, the EPA is responsible for administering the Act. ESDD’s Director of Environment Protection and Water Regulation holds the EPA position. The Environment Protection and Water Regulation Branch supports the EPA in administering regulatory functions of the Act and other legislation administered by the Branch.

The function of the EPA involves meeting the objectives of the Act, which include:

  • protecting the environment
  • ensuring decision-making incorporates ecologically sustainable development principles
  • establishing a single and integrated regulatory framework for environmental protection
  • encouraging responsibility by the whole community for the environment – general environmental duty of care.

The EPA meets these objectives by granting environmental authorisations, promoting environmental awareness, entering into environmental protection agreements, developing codes of practice with industry and issuing notices, environment protection orders and a range of other instruments. The Act covers all environment protection activities including air, noise, land and water pollution.

Environment protection policies

The EPA develops policies and guidelines designed to help explain and apply the Act. Known as environment protection policies (EPPs), these policies and guidelines also assist in clarifying and applying the regulations made under the Act. Nine EPPs have been developed since the Act came into effect. The range of regulatory areas covered by these EPPs is diverse and includes air, noise, water quality, motor sport noise, outdoor concert noise, hazardous materials, wastewater reuse and contaminated sites. There is also an EPP to cover general administration of the Act.

Accredited codes of practice

Codes of practice are developed by industry and are formal documents applying to a particular industry or activity. Codes set out ways of minimising environmental harm and ensuring compliance with the general environmental duty. Codes may be either specific to the particular activity or activities to which they relate or may apply across an industry.

Commercial waste industry

The ACT commercial waste industry has an accredited code of practice, developed in 1998, dealing with operating hours, maintenance of equipment and complaint handling procedures.

Environmental authorisations

An environmental authorisation (EA) is a form of licence granted under s. 49 of the Act. An EA sets out the conditions under which activities with a significant potential to cause environmental harm may be conducted. The EPA received and considered 34 applications for EAs during 2012–13. It currently administers 286 EAs. All EAs are subject to review; EAs granted for an unlimited period are subject to review periods of up to five years based on a risk assessment of the activity and authorisation holder.

Activity (Schedule 1 Class A of the Act)

2011–12 authorisations

2012–13 authorisations

Total authorisations

Controlled burns

1

-

3

Commercial incineration

1

1

Composting

1

Material crushing, grinding or separating

5

Commercial production of alcoholic beverages

0

Crematorium

1

Extraction of material from a waterway

3

2

9

Firewood

2

2

22

Keeping poultry

1

Commercial landfills

2

Logging

1

Milk production

1

Motor sports

-

-

3

Motor sports and outdoor concerts

1

Outdoor concerts

6

14

6

Commercial use of agricultural and veterinary chemicals

13

9

116

Petroleum storage

14

1

67

Road building material production

2

Concrete production

-

10

Sewage treatment

2

Sewage treatment and incineration

1

Placement of soil on land

4

3

15

Transportation within the ACT of regulated waste

-

3

6

Timber milling

-

-

2

Waste petroleum recovery

1

1

Operation of a firearm shooting range

5

Wool-on sheepskin tanning

0

Treatment of contaminated soil

2

2

TOTAL

47

34

286

Environmental protection agreements

Environmental protection agreements are formal, non-contractual agreements between the EPA and businesses. These agreements are designed to help businesses manage their environmental performance.

Section 38 of the Act provides for the EPA to enter into environmental protection agreements generally for the purposes of the Act. The section also allows the agreements to be used instead of environmental authorisations where people are conducting certain activities that entail a moderately significant risk of environmental harm (those listed in Schedule 1 Class B of the Act; see also subsection 42(2) of the Act).

As detailed in the following table, 47 environmental protection agreements were made during the year, bringing the number of agreements currently being administered by the EPA to 144.

Activity (Schedule 1 Class B of the Act)

Agreements for 2011–12

Agreements for 2012–13

Total agreements

Land development/construction

45

47

140

Municipal services

-

-

1

Wastewater reuse

1

-

3

Contaminated sites

-

-

-

TOTAL

46

47

144

Contaminated land notifications

The EPA received 26 contaminated land notifications under s. 23A of the Environment Protection Act 1997 during the reporting period. Of these, 23 related to operational and abandoned service station sites where contamination had been detected during routine maintenance or redevelopment of the sites. There have been 69 notifications since the contaminated land provisions were enacted in 1999.

Contaminated land searches

The EPA received and responded to 259 contaminated land search enquires during the reporting period.

Comments on planning documents

The EPA made comments on 956 development applications and other planning documents referred from the ACT Planning and Land Authority (ACTPLA) and the National Capital Authority (NCA).

Complaint handling

During the year, the Branch responded to 587 public complaints covering a range of issues, with a resulting 1592 actions as presented in the following table. This represents an increase in complaints handled of 196 or 14% from the previous year. The increase is mainly attributed to complaints associated with noise from air conditioning systems (66% increase) due to an increase in residential properties installing reverse cycle air conditioning systems and evaporative coolers and a return to drier conditions. Other noise-related complaints remained relatively static through continued educational programs and planning initiatives to ensure appropriate management and design of developments. Air complaints increased by 9%, likely due to drier conditions.

Environmental issue

2010–11

2011–12

2012–13

Air

171

128

179

Asbestos

1

3

2

Firewood

1

1

-

Illegal fishing

-

2

3

Land contamination

Light pollution

32

14

24

Noise

1,355

1,127

1,234

Other hazardous materials

1

15

7

Ozone

Pesticides

2

1

1

Power boats

1

1

Solid fuel heaters

69

46

59

Trees

Waste collection

4

19

Water

96

58

64

TOTAL

1,733

1,396

1,592

Enforcement activities

Individuals or businesses may incur penalties such as on-the-spot fines, environment protection orders or prosecution for breaches of the Act. On-the-spot fines have been issued for minor breaches of the Act, mainly at building sites and for discharges to stormwater and excessive noise. More serious matters are subject to orders or prosecution.

The following table lists the notices and orders served and prosecutions completed since the Act commenced on 1 July 1998, and actions taken in recent years.

Enforcement action

2010–11

2011–12

2012–13

Total

Service of first infringement

13

21

13

369

Service of final infringement

8

2

3

118

Environment protection orders

1

-

-

36

Environment improvement plan

-

-

-

4

Prosecution

1

-

-

4

Out-of-court settlement

-

-

-

1

Total

23

23

16

532

Clinical Waste Act

In addition to the role of EPA, the Director, Environment Protection and Water Branch holds the statutory position of Clinical Waste Controller under the Clinical Waste Act 1990, with responsibility for approving transporters of clinical waste in the ACT. No new licences were granted to carry on the business of transporting clinical waste during 2012–13. The Clinical Waste Controller reviewed and approved six annual licence renewals and 14 permits for vehicles to transport clinical waste.

Lakes Act

The Senior Manager, Environment Protection and Water Regulation holds the statutory position of Delegate of Lakes, responsible for administering provisions of the Lakes Act 1976 including responsibility for works approval on the lakes and lake closures due to blue-green algae outbreaks and pollution incidents.

The Molonglo Reach water ski area was closed due to safety concerns associated with debris following flood events in early December 2010 and March 2012. It was also closed due to Lake Burley Griffin’s water level being lowered by half a metre to facilitate maintenance works on Scrivener Dam. Territory and Municipal Services Directorate (TAMS) undertook a risk assessment of the Molonglo Reach water ski area and determined a single power boat operated by a competent person may use the main basin area. A licence under the Lakes Act was issued to the ACT Waterski Association for use of the main basin for training and competition purposes only.

Three applications were received from two commercial boat operators and the ACT Waterski Association to use a vessel on Lake Ginninderra. The commercial businesses requested access to operate a boat driver training course and the ACT Waterski Association requested access to undertake water ski training. Licences were granted to all applicants following advice from TAMS.

The Kingston Harbour was declared a lake under the Lakes Act 1976 on 14 August 2012.

Water Resources Act

The EPA also has responsibility for administering the Water Resources Act 2007 (the WR Act), which aims to ensure the use and management of the Territory’s water resources are sustainable while protecting the ecosystems that depend on the waterways. It is also designed to protect waterways and aquifers from damage.

Licences are issued under the WR Act for activities ranging from water abstraction and bore construction works to construction and maintenance of waterway structures and bore water drilling.

In 2012–13 there were 183 active licences to take water with seven new licences issued. Additionally, three bore works licences and 25 waterway works licences were issued. The number of waterway works licences dropped significantly compared to the previous year and may reflect the level of new construction activity in the Territory.

Water is more commonly being considered a commodity and water entitlements are commonly traded in other areas of Australia, both within and between jurisdictions. However, demand for trades in the ACT is low as the ACT does not have large irrigation dams or large-scale irrigation businesses. Only two water access entitlements (WAE) were traded within the ACT and these were related to property sales.

Licence type

2010–11

2011–12

2012–13

Bore works licence

7

4

3

Waterway works licence

33

58

25

Licence to take water (new)

9

8

7

Water access entitlements

4

5

2

Enforcement activity

Licencees are regulated with an educative process and people are given advisory notices and warnings when potential compliance issues begin to develop. This process can prevent serious harm or breaches of the Act. As such the number of formal or punitive instruments under the Act is low.

Enforcement action

2010–11

2011–12

2012–13

Direction

0

0

0

Infringement notice

1

1

0

Prosecution

0

0

0

Total

0

1

0

Further information may be obtained from:

Daniel Walters
Environment Protection Authority
Phone: 02 6207 2230
Email: daniel.walters@act.gov.au
Website: www.environment.act.gov.au