The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has established the Newcastle Local Air Quality Monitoring Network (Newcastle Network) amid community concerns about air pollution. The Newcastle Network establishes a “polluter pays” system under which environment protection licence holders will be required to pay for the cost of monitoring air quality.

The Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Amendment (Newcastle Air Monitoring) Regulation 2015 (Amendment) was published on 6 February 2015. As with the Upper Hunter Air Quality Monitoring Network, the Amendment sets out the “polluter pays” model that will fund the Newcastle Network established by the EPA in August 2014. The Newcastle Network has been modelled on the Upper Hunter Air Quality Monitoring Network which is funded by industry and operated by OEH. See our Corrs In Brief on the Upper Hunter Air Quality Monitoring Network here.

Under Part 9.3C of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (NSW) (POEO Act), the EPA is authorised to develop and implement environmental monitoring programs which aim to monitor the impact of activities on the environment and human health. The Newcastle Network has been implemented under Part 9.3C of the POEO Act as it is an environmental monitoring program which aims to monitor regional air quality in the local government area (LGA).

THE NEWCASTLE NETWORK

The Newcastle Network was established following studies by the EPA and the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and advice from the NSW Health’s Air Pollution Expert Advisory Committee. These studies and advice were in response to community concerns about the air quality in the LGA arising from the relative proximity of industrial activities, such as coal loading and port development activities, to the residential centre.

The Newcastle Network consists of three additional air quality monitoring stations at Mayfield West, Stockton and Carrington which will complement the existing ambient air quality monitoring stations in Newcastle City, Wallsend and Beresfield. The additional stations have been designed to specifically monitor the impacts of cumulative industrial activities adjacent to the centre of Newcastle and will continuously monitor sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter. In conjunction with existing air quality stations in the LGA, the Newcastle Network will provide access to publicly available real time data on air quality.

THE AMENDMENT

In summary, the Amendment includes provisions to:

  • require holders of environment protection licences (Licensees) in the LGA to pay an annual levy towards the cost of monitoring air quality;
  • calculate the amount payable for the levy in proportion to their level of emissions of sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter;
  • require Licensees to provide the EPA with information about emissions;
  • allow persons authorised by the EPA to enter land owned or occupied by Licensees for the purposes of monitoring; and
  • require the EPA to provide air quality data and publicly report on the monitoring program.

The preferred method of calculating emissions is through estimates provided by Licensees in accordance with methods approved by the EPA. In the event that such data is unavailable, the EPA will use data from:

  • the Air Emissions Inventory for the Greater Metropolitan Region; or
  • data from the National Pollutant Inventory; or
  • data collected by the EPA through other sources.

Emissions from commercial shipping or rail activities will also be included in a Licensees total emission output for the purposes of calculating the levy.

The Amendment is established under Chapter 5A of the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2009 (NSW).

IMPLICATIONS

The Amendment forms part of the EPA’s continued policy reforms to inform the community in Newcastle about the air quality of the region and to financially incentivise Licensees to reduce emissions.

Licensees who hold a licence that authorises a scheduled activity under the POEO Act to be carried out at premises in the Newcastle LGA will need to implement appropriate procedures to ensure they are compliant with the new obligations and consult with the EPA in order to determine the most effective method of estimating their emissions. Additional levies may now also be payable under existing environment protection licences. A copy of the Amendment can be found here.