A discussion paper containing the latest suite of environmental reforms proposed by the Department of Mines and Petroleum of Western Australia (DMP) was released for public comment on 7 February 2014 with submissions due on 2 April 2014. The reforms proposed by the DMP involve further amendments to the Mining Act 1978 (WA) (Act) and are the last amendments required to implement DMP’s Reforming Environmental Regulation Program. The DMP hopes to remove duplication in the current approvals processes with these reforms.

One of the DMP’s regulatory functions is to ensure that  environmental impacts associated with resource projects are minimised and that the activities of the resources industry are consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development. ‘Environmentally significant’ proposals are referred by the DMP to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). The EPA is also able to call in for assessment any proposal it believes is likely to have a significant impact on the environment.

The reforms seem positive as they attempt to streamline the various environmental approval requirements currently imposed on mining tenement holders, however the exact nature and extent of the amendments will remain to be seen. The second phase ofconsultation will occur in mid-2014, and an exposure draft of the legislation will be released at that time.

The first stage of amendments to the Act to implement the Reforming Environmental Regulation Program was introduced into Parliament on 30 October 2013 and is currently being considered by the Upper House. These amendments are largely administrative in nature and a summary can be located here.

The latest proposal builds on the October 2013 amendments and the DMP states it intends to further streamline approvals processes, reduce any remaining duplication and implement a risk-based framework for environmental regulation.

Several of the key reforms proposed by the discussion paper include:

  1. replacing approval requirements with a notification system for “low-risk” activities;
  2. removing duplication in approvals processes between agencies and removing the need to obtain a separate native vegetation clearing permit;
  3. inserting a requirement that tenement holders maintain an environmental management system including risk identification;
  4. consolidating and extending the existing environmental obligations in the Act to include provisions to implement a risk and outcomes based approach to assessments;
  5. amending the monitoring and audit powers in the Act to ensure they are contemporary and sufficiently reflect the risk-based system being implemented; and
  6. moving standard tenement conditions into the Act and Mining Regulations 1981 (WA) and removing redundant conditions.