MIL-OSI Australia: Biggest boost to environmental regulation in 3 decades

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Source: New South Wales Ministerial News

The NSW Government will today introduce changes to the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) and other environmental laws, to strengthen penalties and the EPA’s powers to deter repeat offenders and make polluters pay.

Most NSW environmental penalties have not increased since 2005, including those for serious offences. 

The current criminal investigation into asbestos-contaminated mulch, the biggest in the EPA’s history, has highlighted the need to address loopholes and enhance investigative capabilities.

The Environment Protection Legislation Amendment (Stronger Regulation and Penalties) Bill 2024 includes:

  • Doubling maximum penalties for Tier 1 serious offences to $10 million for companies and $2 million for individuals.
  • Doubling maximum penalties for Tier 2 asbestos-related offences to $4 million for companies and $1 million for individuals.
  • More than doubling on-the-spot fine amounts for certain Tier 3 offences to $30,000 for companies for a first offence and $45,000 for a second offence. For individuals this will be $15,000 for a first offence and $22,500 for a second offence.
  • Doubling on-the-spot fines for general littering of small items to $160 for individuals and corporations in public places.
  • Cracking down on small-scale illegal dumping with maximum penalties of $50,000 for companies and $25,000 for individuals. On-the-spot fines of $5000 for companies and $1000 for individuals will be able to be issued by public land managers, including councils, NSW Police and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
  • Implementing a specific, higher penalty for small scale illegal dumping on sensitive land such as childcare centres, hospitals, schools, national parks and beaches.
  • Increasing maximum penalties for breaching resource recovery orders and exemptions from $44,000 to $2 million, or $4 million for offences by corporations involving asbestos waste.
  • Introducing new product recall powers for materials that may be contaminated with harmful substances across an entire supply chain, to quickly safeguard human health and the environment and warn the public.
  • Establishing a public ‘name and shame’ process to issue public warnings about poor environmental performers and sub-standard practices.
  • Strengthening investigation powers, introducing investigation notices, and improving and expanding clean-up notice controls.
  • Allowing the Land and Environment Court to ban serial and serious offenders from applying for an environment protection licence.
  • Providing a framework to establish a new waste accreditation scheme to ensure accurate assessment, classification and disposal of waste. This will protect the integrity of recycling streams by targeting the source of contamination. Regulatory effort will be focused upstream towards the waste generator, providing greater visibility and control over supply chains.

These statewide reforms are designed to overcome emerging issues and urgent regulatory challenges. This is the first step the NSW Government is taking to ensure environmental frameworks are preventing contamination entering the community and recycling streams and enforcing deterrents to environmental crimes.

The NSW Government will consider further changes in response to the ongoing investigation into contaminated mulch or recommendations of the Asbestos Taskforce and Office of the Chief Scientist and Engineer.

Quote attributable to Minister for Climate Change and the Environment Penny Sharpe:

“Today is a downpayment on our election commitment to strengthen environmental protections in NSW. I’m proud that we’re introducing the biggest boost to environmental regulation since the creation of the EPA in 1991.

“Under 12 years of conservative government, penalties and regulation haven’t kept pace. We need a tough environmental cop on the beat. Our changes will give the EPA more power to better protect our precious places and to deter environmental crime.

“The events of the past two months have shown the urgent need to reform environment protection laws and increase penalties.

“These sweeping reforms will directly improve the protection of human health, the environment, and the community.

“Penalties are being ramped up to reflect the risk of harm and disruption to the environment and the community, and for those doing the wrong thing the fine will no longer just be the cost of doing business.”

Offence tiers

Tier 1 offences – wilful

Wilful harm to environment from disposal of waste, or causing any substance to leak, spill or otherwise escape.

Tier 1 offences – negligent

Negligent harm to environment from disposal of waste, or causing any substance to leak, spill or otherwise escape.

Tier 2 offences with higher penalties – asbestos waste and other serious offences

For example, pollution of land where offence involves asbestos waste.

Other Tier 2 offences

For example, failure to comply with licence condition or a clean-up notice.

Tier 3 offences

Environmental offences which are dealt with via penalty notices (on-the-spot fines).

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