Environment Protection Authority

Legislative framework and functions

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

The objectives of the EP Act include:

  • protecting and enhancing the quality of the environment
  • ensuring decision making incorporates social, economic and environmental considerations and promotes ecologically sustainable development principles
  • establishing a single and integrated regulatory framework for environmental protection
  • facilitating the implementation of national environment protection measures and laws
  • ensuring contaminated land is managed having regard to human health and the environment
  • encouraging responsibility by the whole community for the environment – general environmental duty of care.

The EPA meets these objectives by working with the community, business and government agencies, 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.

Environment protection policies

The EPA develops environment protection policies and guidelines to help explain and apply the EP Act and the regulations made under the EP Act. The nine EPPs developed since the EP Act came into effect cover a range of regulatory areas including air, noise, water quality, motor sport noise, outdoor concert noise, hazardous materials, wastewater reuse and contaminated sites. One policy covers general administration of the EP Act and includes the EPA’s enforcement policy.

Accredited codes of practice

Codes of practice are formal documents developed by particular industries and approved by the Minister. 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. There is one code accredited under the EP Act:

  • 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 EP 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 31 applications for EAs during 2013–14. 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. There were 97 reviews of EAs during 2013–14.
Activity (Schedule 1 Class A of the Act) 2012–13 authorisations 2013–14 authorisations Total authorisations

Controlled burns

-

-

3

Commercial incineration

-

-

1

Composting

-

1

Material crushing, grinding or separating

-

5

Commercial production of alcoholic beverages

-

0

Crematorium

-

1

Extraction of material from a waterway

2

2

5

Firewood

2

3

21

Keeping poultry

-

1

Commercial landfills

-

2

Logging

-

1

Milk production

-

1

Motor sports

-

1

3

Motor sports and outdoor concerts

-

1

Outdoor concerts

14

4

5

Commercial use of agricultural and veterinary chemicals

9

10

120

Petroleum storage

1

1

66

Road building material production

-

2

Concrete production

-

-

9

Sewage treatment

-

2

Sewage treatment and incineration

-

1

Placement of soil on land

3

8

18

Transportation within the ACT of regulated waste

3

2

8

Timber milling

-

-

2

Waste petroleum recovery

-

-

1

Operation of a firearm shooting range

-

5

Wool-on sheepskin tanning

-

0

Treatment of contaminated soil

-

-

1

TOTAL

34

31

286

Environmental protection agreements

Environmental protection agreements are formal, non-binding agreements between the EPA and businesses. These agreements are designed to help businesses manage their environmental performance. Section 38 of the EP Act provides for the EPA to enter into environmental protection agreements and 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).

The following table shows 58 environmental protection agreements were made during the year, bringing the number of agreements currently being administered by the EPA to 145.
Activity (Schedule 1 Class B of the Act) Agreements for 2012–13 Agreements for 2013–14 Total agreements

Land development/construction

47

57

139

Municipal services

-

1

1

Wastewater reuse

-

-

4

Contaminated sites

-

-

1

TOTAL

47

58

145

Of the 145 agreements, 139 relate to builders and developers undertaking construction works on sites greater than 0.3 hectares. A condition of the agreements requires the endorsement by the EPA of an erosion and sediment control plan prior to works commencing. The EPA received and endorsed 135 erosion and sediment control plans and undertook 514 inspections of development sites greater than 0.3 hectares.

Contaminated land notifications

The EPA received seven contaminated land notifications under s. 23A of the EP Act during the reporting period. Of these, two related to operational and abandoned service station sites where contamination had been detected during routine maintenance or redevelopment of the sites; the others related to the clean-up of bonded asbestos at sites subject to redevelopment. There have been 80 notifications since the contaminated land provisions were enacted in 1999.

Contaminated sites

Nine independent contaminated land audits by EPA-approved auditors were reviewed and endorsed by the EPA during 2013–14. Three related to the Kingston Foreshore development area, three to service station redevelopments and three to greenfield sites (one in Molonglo 2, one in Molonglo 3 and one for the suburb of Kenny in Gungahlin).

A total of 95 contaminated land environmental assessment reports were reviewed with 65 endorsements issued by the EPA. The remaining 30 reports were interim reports, with further assessment and remediation required prior to the sites being suitable for the proposed use.

Contaminated land searches

The EPA maintains records of known, potentially contaminated and remediated land in the ACT. This information is made available though the Lease Conveyancing Enquiry and Contaminated Land Search to ensure persons with an interest in the land have access to records held by the EPA. The information is also provided under agreement to utility providers for their operational requirements for installation and maintence of infrastructure. The EPA received and responded to 357 contaminated land search enquires during the reporting period.

Beneficial reuse approvals

Beneficial reuse involves the reuse both on and off-site of soil which has a level of contamination but does not pose, subject to appropriate management, a risk to human health or the environment for a particular land use. The applications for reuse are subject to rigorous assessment in accordance with the nationally adopted Assessment of Site Contamination Environment Protection Measure and guidelines endorsed by the EPA and undertaken by suitable qualified environmental consultants. The EPA received, assessed and approved 50 applications for the beneficial reuse of approximately 190,000 cubic metres of low level contaminated soil.

Planning and development

The EPA commented on 701 development applications and other planning documents referred from the planning and land authority and the National Capital Authority.

Complaint handling

During the year the Branch responded to 495 public complaints covering a range of issues, with a resulting 1,316 actions as shown in the following table. This represented a 17% decrease overall from the previous reporting period. The decrease in actions can be attributed to a 29% reduction in amplified music complaints. However, consistent with the previous year’s reporting, there was an increase in complaints associated with noise from air conditioning systems. This may be due to an increase in urban densities and residential properties installing reverse cycle air conditioning systems and evaporative coolers. Other noise-related complaints remained relatively static, which is likely to be due to continued educational programs and planning initiatives to ensure appropriate management and design of developments.

Complaints regarding air quality, primarily associated with dust from development sites, decreased by 20%, which is likely to be due to wetter conditions. There was an increase in actions attributed to solid wood heaters, however this was attributed to one on-going matter resulting in 38 actions.

Environmental issue 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14

Air

128

179

143

Asbestos

3

2

1

Firewood

1

-

-

Illegal fishing

2

3

6

Land contamination

1

Light pollution

14

24

26

Noise

1,127

1,234

998

Other hazardous materials

15

7

5

Ozone

-

Pesticides

1

1

1

Power boats

1

-

-

Solid fuel heaters

46

59

84

Trees

-

Waste collection Noise

-

19

9

Water

58

64

42

TOTAL

1,396

1,592

1,316

Educational activities

Officers from the Environment Protection and Water Regulation and Construction Services branches undertook a joint operation in March 2014 targeting building sites smaller than 0.3 hectares in the suburbs of Casey, Wright, Bonner and Harrison. The inspections focused on ensuring builders were meeting their general environmental duty under the Act by taking all reasonable and practicable steps to minimise harm by installing erosion and sediment controls and ensuring signage was installed as required under the Building Act 2004. Officers inspected 280 sites, of which 15% were identified as having various issues ranging from no signage on the site to sediment leaving the site and entering the stormwater system. Officers spoke to 20 builders on the day of the operation and undertook follow-up inspections on the identified sites to ensure compliance was achieved.

A series of information sheets and guidelines for industry and the general public in relation to the EP Act are available on the Directorate’s website and at Access Canberra Shopfronts. Information is also routinely shared through social media and mail outs to educate industry on their obligations under the EP Act i.e. informing builders to ensure sediment controls are in place prior to commencing works and regularly maintained, particularly for major rain events.

Enforcement activities

Individuals or businesses may incur penalties such as on-the-spot fines, environment protection orders or prosecution for breaches of the EP Act. On-the-spot fines have been issued for minor breaches of the EP 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 in recent years.
Enforcement action 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 Total

Service of first infringement

21

13

14

383

Service of final infringement

2

3

1

119

Environment protection orders

-

-

-

36

Environment improvement plan

-

-

-

4

Prosecution

-

-

-

4

Out-of-court settlement

-

-

-

1

Total

23

16

15

547

Clinical Waste Act

In addition to the role of EPA the Director, Environment Protection and Water Regulation 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 2013–14. The Clinical Waste Controller reviewed and approved four annual licence renewals and 10 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, which is responsible for administering provisions of the Lakes Act 1976 including responsibility for works approval on the lakes and lake warnings and closures due to pollution incidents.

The Molonglo Reach water ski area remained closed to the general public. TAMS undertook a risk assessment of the 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.

Licences were issued to commercial boat operators using the Kingston Foreshore Harbour. The licences incorporated conditions that reflect requirements under the Commonwealth’s Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law 2012 Act, which regulates the safety of all commercial vessels.

Water Resources Act

The EPA 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 2013–14 there were 182 active licences to take water with ten new licences issued. Additionally, seven bore works licences and 26 waterway works licences were issued. The number of waterway works licences remains low, in line with 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. Demand for trades in the ACT is low as the ACT does not have large irrigation dams or large-scale irrigation businesses. There were 13 new water access entitlements issued in the ACT as business and community groups implemented small scale alternative water supplies rather than use of potable mains water.

Licences issued under the Water Resources Act.
Licence type 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14

Bore works licence

4

3

7

Waterway works licence

58

25

26

Licence to take water (new)

8

7

10

Water access entitlements

5

2

13

Enforcement activity

Licensees are regulated in accordance with the EPA’s enforcement policy through an educative process, with a progressive increase in punitive outcome. People are given advisory notices and warnings when potential compliance issues arise. This process can prevent serious harm or breaches of the WR Act. The process is to prevent harm to the environment and, as such, the number of formal or punitive instruments is low.

Overall there was a 48% decrease in enforcement activity in 2013–14, which indicated a shift towards compliance by the regulated community.

Enforcement action 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14

Written caution (advisory)

59

83

23

Written formal warning

2

6

22

Direction

0

0

1

Infringement notice

1

0

0

Prosecution

0

0

0

Total

62

89

46

National framework for compliance

The EPA continued its commitment to implement the National Framework for Compliance and Enforcement Systems for Water Resource Management within the ACT by:

  • initiating a more targeted and intelligence driven approach to monitoring, which targets water resource activity according to risk level
  • developing project legacy by implementing new compliance and enforcement tools into standard operating procedures
  • enhancing the profile of compliance and enforcement in workplace culture and reporting mechanisms.

Further information may be obtained from:

Christopher Collier

Environment Protection Authority
Telephone: (02) 6207 2230
Email: christopher.collier@act.gov.au
Web: www.environment.act.gov.au