Negotiating the approvals maze

12/12/2007 - 22:00

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The environmental approvals process remains problematic for industry in Western Australia, with the increasing regulatory standards likely to present a growing challenge for the state’s miners.

The environmental approvals process remains problematic for industry in Western Australia, with the increasing regulatory standards likely to present a growing challenge for the state’s miners.

Director of energy and minerals initiative at the University of Western Australia, Tim Shanahan, told the WA Business News forum the state was faced with the unique challenge of having a resources-based economy and high environmental and community standards.

“WA would have some of the highest standards of environmental regulation anywhere in the world,” Mr Shanahan said.

“It is quite unusual for there to be a developed economy that is reliant on resources. A lot of other places in world resources-based economies are more in developing nations.

“So we get the double whammy. We’ve got the commodities, we’ve got that industry here, and we’ve got those high community expectations.”

Mr Shanahan said the process the industry needed to go through to get environmental clearance was byzantine, and “a spaghetti junction of interrelating rules and regulations”.

But Iluka group manager environment health and safety, Mark Edebone, said the industry was partly to blame for taking skilled workers away from the government departments to work in private firms.           

“We in the industry need to work closely with the regulators, and realising and encouraging improvement in the skills base of the regulators,” he said.

“As an industry we’ve dragged a lot of the talent out of the regulatory regimes and now we get upset when we don’t get the right answers or it takes a lot more time. We need to think about how we can work with them to make them more efficient in the first place and to make the processes more efficient.

“The approvals processes are still not working as effectively as some people would like to think they are. And I think that needs direction and greater focus.”

Mr Edebone believes the rehabilitation component of environmental regulation should be revised to better reflect the environmental needs of the state, putting the money where it is most needed.

He said the current system, whereby mining companies were required to return the land to its former state, may overlook other areas of environmental need in the state that required more urgent attention.

“This is where we need to work with regulators and the communities in which we operate and say, ‘if its going to cost $100 million to get this bit of land back to exactly what it was or very close to it, is there real benefit here?’

“If we spent $20 million and got it to 80 per cent of biodiversity of what was there before, and when we have than $80 million still spare, wouldn’t it be better to put it somewhere else where its going to be a lot more beneficial and useful to the state and the globe?

“They don’t think laterally about the more regional type of philosophy, for example spending that $80 million on Gondwana Link and improving the biodiversity through the South West.”

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