New pollution reporting introduced in NSW, Australia | 6th Feb 2012
Environmental pollution incidents in NSW, Australia - are you ready to report an incident immediately? From today (6 February 2012), the requirement to immediately report environmental pollution incidents comes into effect in NSW under section 148 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act (POEO) Act 1997.
Not only does this new requirement affect organisations holding an environment protection licence under the POEO Act 1997, it also affects anyone causing a pollution incident where material harm to the environment is caused or threatened.
Do you understand your business risks?
Ask yourself these questions about your business:
- Do you know what potential environmental incidents could occur? If so, could a leak, spill or escape or deposit of a substance cause pollution and material harm1 to the environment?
- If a pollution incident occurs, do you have pollution incident response plans or processes in place to ensure that 'all necessary action should be taken to minimise the size and any adverse effects of the release'?
- Do the people carrying out the activity, including casual or shift workers, or contractors, know what to do in the event of an incident and their duty to notify? Do they know who to notify?
- For POEO licensee holders, are you aware and prepared for the new requirements for incident response plans and publishing your monitoring data?
The risks of not taking action can be significant with maximum penalties of $2million for not reporting an incident. To prepare, you will need to understand the potential environmental risks and impacts from your operations and ensure your procedures to manage incidents are adequately implemented and communicated.
Summary of key changes
As a result of the recent incidents at the Orica manufacturing site in NSW, The Protection of the Environment Legislation Amendment Act 2011 has been implemented to improve the way pollution incidents are reported and managed. The key changes include:
- Requirement for 'immediate notification of pollution incidents' rather than 'as soon as practicable' for organisations holding a licence under the POEO Act, or anyone causing a pollution incident where material harm is caused or threatened to the environment.
- Notification to each of the relevant authorities including the Appropriate Regulatory Authority (ARA), the EPA (if not the ARA), the Ministry of Health, the WorkCover Authority, the Local Authority (if not the ARA) and Fire and Rescue NSW.
- A doubling of the maximum penalties to $2 million for corporations and $500,000 for individuals failing to report a pollution incident. Daily penalties for failing to report a pollution incident have also doubled to $240,000 for corporations and $120,000 for individuals.
For licence holders, further requirements include:
- Mandatory preparation and implementation of pollution incident response plans for each of the licensed activities in accordance with requirements set out in Part 5.7A of the POEO Act. This requirement commences on 29 February 2012 and must be completed by 1 September 2012.
- A requirement to publish monitoring data that has been collected as a result of a licence condition, in accordance with section 66(6) of the POEO Act. This requirement applies to data obtained from 31 March 2012 onwards. All data must be made publically available within 14 days of collection.
Other considerations include:
- Where the ARA suspects that a licensed activity is being conducted in an environmentally unsatisfactory manner, it may place a condition on the licence requiring a mandatory environmental audit to be conducted.
- The EPA and Director-General of the Ministry of Health have new powers to require that an occupier of a premises or any person that they reasonably suspect of causing a pollution incident to cover the costs of any analysis of human health and environmental risks.
- The EPA can direct a person who is the occupier of a premises where a pollution incident has occurred to notify such other persons of the incident as the EPA deems necessary.
- The information gathered by the ARA / EPA will be made publically available.
How can WSP help?
We have a dedicated team of consultants working with clients to understand their risks. We take a collaborative approach with our clients and look beyond simply mitigating risk to understanding the business objectives of our clients and creating solutions that deliver competitive edge and commercial opportunities.
Our range of services will help you prepare for these regulatory changes:
- Environmental risk and hazard identification
- Understanding and defining 'material harm' to the environment
- Environmental legal compliance including POEO licence conditions
- Incident response planning, implementation and training
- Incident investigation, remediation and technical services
- Environmental data monitoring and reporting
For further informaiton on how we can assist your business, contact:
Louise Wood - Principal Environmental Consultant
Tel: +61 (0)409 682 608
Graeme Malpass - Principal Environmental Scientist
Tel: +61 (0)448 977 965
1 What is material harm?
147 Meaning of material harm to the environment (1) For the purposes of this Part: (a) harm to the environment is material if:
147 Meaning of material harm to the environment
(1) For the purposes of this Part:
(a) harm to the environment is material if:(i) it involves actual or potential harm to the health or safety of human beings or to ecosystems that is not trivial, or
(ii) it results in actual or potential loss or property damage of an amount, or amounts in aggregate, exceeding $10,000 (or such other amount as is prescribed by the regulations), and
(b) loss includes the reasonable costs and expenses that would be incurred in taking all reasonable and practicable measures to prevent, mitigate or make good harm to the environment.
(2) For the purposes of this Part, it does not matter that harm to the environment is caused only in the premises where the pollution incident occurs."