Strong EPA powers welcomed, meeting clear gaps in our environmental laws

Nature Conservation Council

15th March 2023.

The Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales (NCC), the state’s leading environmental advocacy organisation, has today welcomed the NSW Government’s announcement of stronger powers for the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), including increased fines they can hand out for companies and individuals that break the law.

The Environment Protection Legislation Amendment (Stronger Regulation and Penalties) Bill 2024 comes in the wake of the asbestos disaster that has shocked NSW, but goes substantially further than just increasing penalties for illegal dumping of toxic and hazardous material.

The Bill will also:

  • Increase penalties (in most cases, doubling current penalties)

  • Give power to issue recall notices to suppliers of substances

  • Increase public awareness about persons and matters of environmental concern (“name and shame” provisions)

  • Prevent serial and serious offenders from applying for Environmental Protection Licenses

  • Strengthen tools and powers to manage illegal dumping

  • Gives the EPA powers to enter into commercial arrangements in relation to carbon neutrality and net zero.

“We hope that these changes will go some way in addressing the widespread recognition that many of the fines handed out by the EPA do not prevent illegal behaviour, but are rather seen simply as the cost of doing business, especially by the fossil fuel industry” NCC CEO Jacqui Mumford said today.

“We also commend Minister Sharpe for using this Bill as an opportunity to codify the landmark ruling from the Bushfire Survivors v EPA case, which that found the EPA has a legal duty to take action on climate change”

Under these changes, the Bill:

  • clearly states that taking action on climate change is an objective of the authority.

  • clarifies the powers of the authority include developing objectives, guidelines and policies to ensure environment protection from climate change

Statements attributable to NCC Chief Executive Officer Jacqui Mumford

This is the largest change to the EPA’s powers since the EPA was established in 1991.

Most penalties haven’t been increased since 2005. With company profits and inflation rising since then, for some rogue operators, fines for non-compliance have simply become the cost of doing business. This puts them on notice.

“Codifying the EPA’s climate change objective and powers into law is a solid step forward. These powers for the EPA are essential to meeting our legislated climate targets. It removes any doubt and should send a signal to industry that NSW is serious about getting to net zero.

Now it’s up to the EPA to use their legal powers to drive down emissions from the state’s major emitters – including coal mines.

Statement ends

/Public Release. View in full here.