On 13 March 2013 a Bill was introduced into the House of Representatives to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) to include ‘water resources’ as a new matter of national environmental significance (NES) for large coal mining and coal seam gas projects. It is anticipated that the Bill will be passed by Parliament.
These amendment will have significant implications for coal mining and coal seam gas projects, potentially duplicating existing State environmental impact assessment processes, with associated risks of costs and delay.
Proponents should be aware of the following key effects of the Bill.
- The Commonwealth will be empowered to require the impacts of ‘large coal mining’ and ‘coal seam gas projects’ on ‘water resources’ to be assessed under the EPBC Act. This is even where those projects may not otherwise trigger the EPBC Act controlling provisions for existing matters of NES (for example, listed threatened species or national heritage places).
- The Commonwealth Minister will be empowered to impose water specific conditions on ‘large coal mining’ and ‘coal seam gas projects’. Presently the Minister’s powers in this regard are limited to conditioning water impacts only to the extent that any such impacts relate to an existing matter of NES.
- The new water resources trigger has retrospective application, subject to express exclusions. It will also apply to approximately 40 mining and coal seam gas projects which are currently being assessed under the EPBC Act, but which are yet to be the subject of advice from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee.
Further information on the Bill is available on our website1.
We recommend proponents for coal mining and coal seam gas projects:
- assess whether they will be subject to the new ‘water resources’ trigger proposed by the Bill, and
- if so, review their overall approvals strategy so as to ensure that steps are taken to minimise the cost, approval and delay risks which may otherwise arise as a result of this new trigger.