EPA uses measures provided under the Environment Protection Act 1970 to prevent pollution and protect the environment to the levels required by State environment protection policies. These include:
Works approvals and licences
If not managed properly, major industries have the potential to harm the environment. The Act contains requirements for works approvals and licences that apply to certain types of industries (known as ‘scheduled premises’), and Regulations specify which industries are defined as scheduled premises.
These industries are subject to EPA’s works approval and licensing controls, and need EPA approval before new works or major alterations can begin. This ensures that works with the potential to affect the environment are properly assessed to ensure that environmental quality will be protected. EPA’s assessment encourages industry to use efficient industrial processes that minimise waste.
Approved works must have an EPA licence before they can be operated. The licence is a legally binding document that includes key operating conditions and limits the discharge of wastes. It also requires regular reporting to EPA.
Works approvals and licences are binding and enforcement action may follow if their requirements are not met.
Research development and demonstration approvals
Companies may apply for a research, development and demonstration (RD&D) approval when a new process, that may otherwise require a works approval, is being piloted for a short term on a limited scale. The proposal must be assessed by EPA as being likely to have minimal potential environmental impact.
EPA may issue an emergency approval where it is satisfied that there is a need to allow for the relief of an emergency or temporary community hardship. An approval may allow the short term use of a temporary disposal facility, or the relaxation of specified conditions or discharge limits in an EPA licence, or other appropriate actions that will not have a significant environmental impact. Conditions in an emergency approval are enforceable.
EPA may issue a commissioning approval where newly installed works require commissioning that will result in discharges to the environment. The approval is short term and allows the operator to demonstrate compliance with works approval conditions. The operator will usually (unless an exemption applies) need to apply for the issue or amendment of an EPA licence before commercial operation of the new works.
Smaller operations, as well as larger operations that may be covered by the works approval/licence system, must avoid harming the environment. If pollution has occurred, or the danger of pollution exists, EPA can issue notices requiring environmental risks to be eliminated. These notices are binding and legally enforceable.
There are three sorts of notices that EPA can serve. These are:
- pollution infringement notice – a fine for breaching the Environment Protection Act or Regulations under the Act;
- pollution abatement notice – a notice that is used to require the rectification of an actual or potential pollution problem;
- clean up notice – a notice that is used to require that pollution (or a situation presenting a clear risk of pollution) is cleaned up.
At times EPA takes enforcement action on breaches of state environment protection policies, licences, works approvals, RD&D approvals or notices.
EPA’s Compliance and Enforcement Policy, released in 2011, provides the framework for when (and how) we will and will not take compliance and enforcement action – it is essentially a rulebook on how EPA will exercise its discretion.
As a result of the new policy, EPA’s actions will be more consistent and predictable, and businesses and the community will have more certainty about what to expect from EPA.