What has happened?

On 13 October 2011, the Protection of the Environment Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 (the Bill) was passed by the Legislative Assembly. It was read for the first time in the Legislative Council on the same date.

The Bill proposes to:

  • amend the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (NSW) (POEO Act), 
  • amend the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991 (NSW), and
  • make a number of consequential amendments.

Who needs to know?

Anyone whose activities have the potential to impact the environment.

What changes are proposed?

The Bill proposes the following important changes to the requirement to notify authorities of pollution incidents: 

  • pollution incidents that cause or threaten material harm to the environment must be notified ‘immediately’, rather than as soon as practicable, as is currently the case,
  • when a pollution incident occurs that causes or threatens material harm to the environment, the following expanded list of authorities must be notified:
    • the appropriate regulatory authority, 
    • the EPA (whether or not it is the appropriate regulatory authority),
    • if the EPA is the appropriate regulatory authority–the local authority for the area in which the pollution incident occurs, 
    • the Ministry of Health, 
    • the WorkCover Authority, and 
    • Fire and Rescue NSW,
  • a continuing requirement to notify the relevant authorities about a pollution incident as further information becomes known, 
  • doubling the maximum penalty for the offence of failing to immediately give notice of pollution incidents to $2,000,000 (for a corporation) and $500,000 (for an individual), and
  • the EPA may direct the occupier of premises where a pollution incident has occurred to notify such other persons of the incident as the EPA requires.

Other proposed changes include:

  • the appropriate regulatory authority may impose a mandatory environmental audit where it reasonably suspects that an activity has been or is being carried out in an environmentally unsatisfactory manner, 
  • the holder of an environment protection licence (EPL) that imposes a monitoring requirement must give public access to the monitoring data within 14 days of obtaining that data, 
  • a duty on all holders of EPLs, and certain other persons, to prepare and test a pollution incident response management plan. In the event of a pollution incident, such a plan must be implemented, 
  • details of each mandatory environmental audit, pollution study, pollution reduction program and penalty notice issued must be recorded in the public register kept by the regulatory authorities, and
  • the EPA may request the Chief Health Officer of the Ministry of Health to undertake an analysis of the human health risk of a pollution incident. The EPA may also carry out an environmental risk analysis for a pollution incident. The reasonable costs of these analyses are recoverable from those responsible for the incident.