On 23 May 2011 the Queensland Government announced its intention to introduce legislative reforms to the environmental assessment and approvals regime operating under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (“EP Act”). These reforms are intended to reduce "green tape" for business and government, with a focus on clarifying and simplifying processes for obtaining and amending environmental approvals.
The proposed reforms will apply to the State’s mining and petroleum industries and other industry sectors that trigger environmental approval thresholds. The Government expects there will be fewer activities requiring rigorous environmental assessment, improvements to approval timeframes and business compliance cost reductions.
Key points for mining and petroleum companies to note are:
- the environmental authority (“EA”) application process will be simplified, reducing duplication (particularly where documentation has already been supplied as part of an environmental impact assessment process), removing the requirement for an Environmental Management Plan for mining EAs and scaling down the requirements for Plans of Operations for small scale mining projects;
- EAs will able to be issued to companies for their activities over multiple sites, allowing companies to choose whether to operate under a single EA inclusive of activities both on and off a mining or petroleum tenement; and
- EAs will now attach to their associated resources tenement, removing the need for the EA transfer application process.
For other industry sectors triggering approval thresholds, the changes will mean:
- operational conditions will move out of the land-use based development approvals and into 'operator licences', which will be personal rather than attaching to the land;
- one operator licence will able to be issued for activities over multiple sites;
- a wider range of circumstances in which operating conditions can be amended without triggering the requirement for a new land use development approval; and
- "proportional licensing", similar to the tiered assessment levels that apply to mining projects of different scales, will now apply for all environmentally relevant activities (“ERAs”). Certain low impact ERAs will be required to comply with a set of statutory rules instead of having to obtain a development approval, and other ERAs will be approved either under a standard approval, a site-specific assessment, or an environmental impact statement.
Finally, a new enforcement mechanism will be added to the EP Act. The regulator will be able to issue 'show cause notices' where it has concerns regarding compliance in relation to activities conducted under the new statutory rules.
Draft legislation has not yet been released, but the detail of the proposed changes is set out in the discussion paper 'Greentape Reduction—Reforming licensing under the Environmental Protection Act 1994’.