14/10/2009 - 11:26

New EPA means faster approvals: Govt

14/10/2009 - 11:26

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The state government has announced plans to split the Environmental Protection Authority from the Department of Environment and Conservation, in a move that has won rare bipartisan support from resources and conservation groups.

The state government has announced plans to split the Environmental Protection Authority from the Department of Environment and Conservation, in a move that has won rare bipartisan support from resources and conservation groups.

The change should help speed up Western Australia's environmental approval process, according to the state government.

Premier Colin Barnett and Environment Minister Donna Faragher today announced the creation of the Office of the Environmental Protection Agency, the biggest changes to the EPA in more than 20 years.

The move effectively splits Western Australia's EPA from the Department of Environment and Conservation, and creates an independent watchdog with the ability to monitor projects on an ongoing basis.

While welcoming the change, the Conservation Council of WA said the restructure must be supported by a significant increase in resources if the EPA is to fulfil its role effectively.

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy and the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association have both broadly welcomed the initiative.

CME acting chief executive, Nicole Roocke said the separation of the EPA from the DEC is a major decision by the government as part of their approvals reform agenda.

"It is vital the government continues to seek improvements across the entire approvals process that will lead to responsible development while maintaining a high standard of environmental integrity," Ms Roocke said.

"Of ongoing concern is the overlap and duplication across multiple government departments, which is a constant source of frustration for companies in the sector. Any changes must result in increased clarity of responsibilities leading to improvements in the overall approvals process."

APPEA WA director, Tom Baddeley said it makes good sense to have the EPA in control of its resources and business in line with its functions and responsibilities, and importantly to have its own clear identity within the community.

"The State Government should be congratulated on this reform but needs to commit to resourcing this new Office as it will be for the benefit of all West Australians," Mr Baddeley said.

"We look forward to a directly resourced EPA that is accountable for managing its resources and outputs.

"We await news of further changes which will bring greater efficiency, transparency, certainty and the elimination of duplication in the approvals process."

Staff for the new office will largely come from the DEC, with EPA staff numbers expected to be increased.

Ms Faragher said the move could result in cost increases to the government.

 

 

Full announcements below:

 

State's environmental watchdog to be given greater independence
Portfolio: Premier, Environment

Western Australia's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) will be given greater autonomy and management of its own resources.

In the biggest changes to the EPA in more than 20 years, the role of the State's independent environmental watchdog will be boosted to better meet the growing complexity, size and demands of development assessment in the State.

Premier Colin Barnett said a key aspect of the changes would be the creation of the Office of the Environmental Protection Authority which would have its own staff, budget, management and administrative capability. This would involve the transfer of staff from the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and perhaps other government agencies.

Mr Barnett said the State Government's changes would strike the right balance between responsible development and the protection of WA's unique environment.

"The Liberal-National Government's commitment to attracting and promoting investment also demands that we are equally committed to having an EPA with the resources to provide expert and independent advice to government," Mr Barnett said.

"The Gorgon gas project highlighted the challenges in achieving the highest environmental standards and the longer-term economic benefits of major projects.

"World-class projects like Gorgon - which involve innovative environmental management solutions - need an EPA that can efficiently meet community and government expectations of robust environmental scrutiny, assessment and conditions.

"We will have an EPA that will not just recommend environmental conditions, but also have the resources to monitor compliance with approved Ministerial conditions throughout the life of a project.

"Under a Liberal-National Government the EPA will, for the first time, be truly independent."

Environment Minister Donna Faragher said the changes were based on recommendations in a number of reports, including 'The Role and Structure of the Environmental Protection Authority' by the Environment Minister's Environmental Stakeholder Advisory Group, chaired by former EPA chairman Dr Bernard Bowen, and involving industry and environment groups.

"These changes will result in increased transparency and independence, leading to greater community and industry confidence in the activities of the EPA," Mrs Faragher said.

The Minister said the new office would have responsibility for parts of the Environmental Protection Act dealing with policy development, environmental impact assessments and compliance monitoring of Ministerial conditions.

"The EPA will receive continuous feedback on project approvals, especially the effectiveness and enforcement of Ministerial conditions," she said.

"And from a policy perspective, there will be an improvement in the capacity of the Minister and the EPA to deal with strategic priorities and emerging issues in environmental protection across the State."

Mrs Faragher said DEC would retain responsibility for conservation and environmental regulatory matters such as clearing of native vegetation, natural resource management, pollution, licensing and works approvals.

She said the new office would be operational by December this year.

 

 

Conservation Council welcomes independence of environment watchdog

 

The Conservation Council of WA has welcomed the State Government's announcement to increase the independence of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) but has said the restructure must be supported by a significant increase in resources if the EPA is to fulfil its role effectively.

Conservation Council director Piers Verstegen said: "It is critical that Ministers and Governments are held accountable for decisions that affect the environment, and having a strong and independent EPA is fundamental to ensuring that happens.

"Today's decision to separate the state's environmental watchdog from the land management agency is a step forward for government accountability as it corrects a conflict of interest created with the amalgamation of the agencies under the previous State Government.

Since 2008 the EPA has been serviced by the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) presenting a conflict of interest in terms of policy advice and proponent responsibilities in situations where DEC is a proponent.

Mr Verstegen said "As well as conducting assessments of development proposals, the EPA is intended to be the primary environmental policy setting agent under State Government legislation.

"In recent times these critical policy setting functions have been neglected due to a lack of resources and independence.

"The independence of the EPA is corrected by today's decision by the State Government; however it is unclear if the new agency will be provided with adequate resources to do its job.

"DEC is already operating on a shoe-string budget so a re-allocation of resources from the Department will reduce its ability to effectively deliver on-ground environmental and conservation programmes and be counter-productive in protecting the WA environment. The Council looks forward to receiving further information about where resources will come from.

"The Western Australian environment is under increasing pressure from development and it is vital that we have a well resourced environment watchdog to provide expert and independent advice to the Minister in the best interests of the environment. This announcement today is a step in the right direction", concluded Mr Verstegen.

 

 

SEPARATION OF EPA STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION AS PART OF APPROVALS REFORM
14 October 2009
MEDIA RELEASE NO. CME 64-09
The Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CME) has broadly welcomed the establishment of a stand-alone Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) as one step in the reform of the approvals processes in Western Australia.

"The separation of the EPA from the Department of Environment and Conservation is a major decision by the government as part of their approvals reform agenda," said CME's Acting Chief Executive Nicole Roocke.

"It is vital the government continues to seek improvements across the entire approvals process that will lead to responsible development while maintaining a high standard of environmental integrity.

"Of ongoing concern is the overlap and duplication across multiple government departments, which is a constant source of frustration for companies in the sector. Any changes must result in increased clarity of responsibilities leading to improvements in the overall approvals process," Ms Roocke said.

"CME would welcome the opportunity to work with the government to ensure the establishment of the Office of the Environmental Protection Authority leads to improvements in this regard.

"In addition, there is a need to gain a greater understanding of the detail of the proposed changes, including the government's commitment to fully resourcing the two agencies given the benefit to the State.

"Approvals reform remains a priority for the resources industry, and we certainly believe that a more streamlined system is possible without compromising standards of environmental protection."

 

 

WA EPA restructure an important step

The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association has welcomed the decision by the WA Government to restructure the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), giving it greater autonomy and management of its own resources.

APPEA WA Director Tom Baddeley said an independent, or stand-alone, Office of the EPA was an important step in making the approvals process more efficient and transparent without compromising environmental outcomes.

"It makes good sense to have the EPA in control of its resources and business in line with its functions and responsibilities, and importantly to have its own clear identity within the community," said Mr Baddeley.

"The State Government should be congratulated on this reform but needs to commit to resourcing this new Office as it will be for the benefit of all West Australians.

"We look forward to a directly resourced EPA that is accountable for managing its resources and outputs.

"We await news of further changes which will bring greater efficiency, transparency, certainty and the elimination of duplication in the approvals process," said Mr Baddeley.

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