: Clearing the air: reform of pollution law in NSW

Clearing the air: reform of pollution law in NSW

Nari Sahukar
New South Wales
On 8 August 2011, a hazardous material known as Chromium VI was released on the site of the Orica ammonium nitrate plant at Kooragang Island. Aside from giving rise to serious community concern, the incident highlighted a number of limitations in NSW pollution regulation.

In response to this and further incidents (and following the O’Reilly Report into the Orica incident), the NSW Government has enacted legislation that separates the Environment Protection Authority (‘EPA’) from the Office of Environment and Heritage, changes the composition of the EPA Board, and imposes new obligations on industry for emergency management and data publication. Amid increased community concern around pollution regulation, the re-establishment of an independent EPA provides an opportunity to strengthen pollution regulation and improve the protection of the environment in NSW.

At the request of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, the Environmental Defender’s Office NSW has prepared a discussion paper to inform the future direction of pollution regulation and the NSW EPA. The paper, entitled ‘Clearing the Air: Opportunities for Improved Regulation of Pollution in New South Wales’, outlines significant shortcomings of the current system in protecting human health and the environment.

The discussion paper addresses the existing model for pollution regulation in NSW; the need for a more integrated approach across agencies such as the EPA and Department of Planning; key elements of an effective pollution management system; opportunities for better community engagement; and priorities for effective compliance and enforcement.

The paper proposes an enhanced approach to managing pollution that:

  • places duties on regulators and polluters to minimise and, where possible, eliminate pollutants from entering the environment;
  • sets pollution management on an objective, scientifically based foundation;
  • strengthens the role of the EPA in strategic planning and decision making;
  • strengthens the pollution licencing system and increases transparency around information relating to polluting activities;
  • enhances and broadens the use of existing tools to minimise pollution loads and drive continual improvement;
  • strengthens community engagement in pollution management decisions; and
  • enhances the EPA’s role as an independent regulator.

The discussion paper is available at http://www.edo.org.au/edonsw/site/policy_discussion.php

NARI SAHUKAR is Acting Policy Director, Environmental Defender’s Office NSW.

(2012) 37(2) AltLJ 135
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