The federal government released a draft set of standards today designed to streamline environmental assessment and approval agreements with the states and territories.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard is aiming to sign bilateral deals with each state and territory government on a single environmental assessment and approval process for major projects by March 2013.
Environment Minister Tony Burke said the draft framework of standards was about "lifting the states up to the level of environmental protection provided by the commonwealth, not letting commonwealth standards drop".
"We can keep stringent environmental standards while simplifying an overly complex process - and we are," Mr Burke said in a statement.
The framework would ensure that matters of national environmental significance were protected and Australia would comply with all its international environmental obligations, he said.
But speaking to AAP ahead of this weekend's Greens national conference, Australian Greens Leader Christine Milne said the minister was speaking in code.
"For streamlining read `fast-tracking', for devolving powers to the states read `abandoning environmental protection'," Senator Milne said.
Ms Gillard had been dictated to by the Business Council of Australia, she said.
"Far from pulling the states up to the high standards of the commonwealth, which is what the minister (Burke) argues, what he is doing is pushing the standards down to the standard of the states," she said.
Senator Milne said Queensland and Western Australia in particular had been axing environmental regulation in recent months.
"This is disowning, for the Labor Party, Bob Hawke's legacy of getting the commonwealth involved in oversight of major projects, oversight of world heritage areas, areas of high conservation value," she said.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the framework represented "important progress towards becoming smarter about environmental protection and cutting the green tape burden on major projects".
He said environmental checks were important, but a "sensible and cost effective approach" was needed.
Ms Gillard and state and territory leaders will discuss the plan at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in December.