The NSW Government has introduced the Environment Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 (NSW) (Bill) which proposes wide ranging reforms to NSW environmental laws to enable the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to "crack down" on environmental offenders.

The Bill makes good on Minister Matt Kean's commitment to ensure that "the book [is] thrown at anyone who has done the wrong thing". While the EPA has made it clear that the reforms are "aimed solely at those who deliberately choose to circumvent the law", the amendments proposed by the Bill will materially increase environmental liabilities for all NSW operators.

This article outlines the key reforms proposed by the Bill which will amend a raft of environmental legislation, including the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (NSW) (POEO Act) and Contaminated Land Management Act 1997 (NSW) (CLM Act) and include:

  • the creation of new environmental offences;
  • increasing the penalties for a number of existing offences;
  • increasing the powers of the EPA and other environment regulators to hold to account those perceived to be responsible for pollution or contamination and to enforce environment protection licence conditions;
  • enabling the EPA to recover profits arising from the commission of environmental offences and the cost of remediating contaminated land from related bodies corporate and directors and managers of offending corporations; and
  • making it easier for the EPA to prove certain environmental offences.

The Bill is expected to be debated by Parliament in early 2022 and, if passed, will result in the largest overhaul of NSW environmental laws in over five years.

Key Reforms

 

Public Consultation on POEO Act Regulations In addition to the reforms contemplated by the Bill, the EPA is currently consulting on the following regulations under the POEO Act

  • Protection of the Environment Operations (Clean Air) Regulation 2021 (NSW); and
  • Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2021 (NSW).

Each of these regulations:

  • were remade with only minor amendments earlier this year, to avoid automatic repeal under the Subordinate Legislation Act 1989 (NSW); and
  • will be substantively amended in 2022. The EPA has committed to carrying out consultation on the proposed changes in 2022.

Implications

The reforms contained in the Bill demonstrate how important it is for all businesses which operate in NSW, and their related bodies corporate, directors and managers to:

  • take environmental compliance very seriously; and
  • work effectively with the EPA to address any pollution and contamination issues.