The Bill focuses on providing greater access to information and justice when it comes to regulating the environment and protecting the health of Victorians.
Read more about this focus below.
Victorians expect to understand where there may be contamination from historic activities, the risks it may pose and that clean-up has been undertaken to appropriately manage the risks to human health and the environment.
The proposed legislation introduces reforms to enable the actions of EPA and persons in management or control of a site to be more proportionate to the risks posed by contaminated land (including groundwater). This will reduce costs to consumers, businesses and government.
Duties for Contaminated Land
The Bill establishes a duty to manage contaminated land.
The Duty to Manage creates an obligation on persons or entities in management or control of freehold or Crown land to ensure the risks of harm to human health and the environment from contamination are appropriately minimised. This includes obligations to:
- Identify any contamination a person should reasonably know about and assess that contamination;
- Manage the contamination by minimising the risks to human health and the environment so far as reasonably practicable;
- Notify people who may be affected by the contamination.
EPA would provide guidance on how to meet these obligations.
The Bill also establishes a new duty to notify of contaminated land.
The Duty to Notify requires a person or entity in management or control of land to notify the EPA as soon as practicable if the contamination may pose a significant risk to human health or the environment.
Contamination would be notifiable if it meets criteria set out in the proposed legislation and any future regulations.
Under the current EP Act, environmental audits are a one-size-fits-all assessment process that sometimes involves unnecessarily detailed investigation and excessive costs.
The proposed legislation would establish a more flexible two-stage process:
- Preliminary risk screen (PRS) assessment: a rapid, low cost assessment for contaminated land based on a desktop study and site inspection, which may include sampling. The focus of a PRS is to determine if a detailed audit is necessary.
- Scaled audit: to assess and manage the risks of harm to human health and the environment from contamination or industrial activities. Scaled audits would often be more cost effective than current audits as the PRS would help environmental auditors focus the audit on material risks. A scaled audit may result in remedial action being taken to manage risks to human health and the environment posed by a site or industrial activity.
This would ensure sites which do not have significant contamination risks to be assessed more quickly and cheaply.
The proposed legislation includes ‘Better Environment Plans’ to enable EPA to recognise innovative approaches to environmental protection. EPA’s endorsement of plans would be an important recognition of and support to that positive action by the partners.
Better Environment Plans may be used in many ways, such as:
- A business that is working to remediate a portfolio of contaminated sites can seek EPA’s endorsement of a plan that manages the clean up over an agreed timescale, making sure the most significant risks are addressed first.
- Businesses operating within an industrial estate developing a plan to reduce the collective impact on air quality from that estate’s activities.
Through the Independent Inquiry into the EPA, stakeholders reported that access to information about the environment is very important, including in helping to make decisions about their health and the environment.
The proposed legislation introduces requirements to make environmental information more transparent and accessible.
These changes would mean:
- The EPA would be required to establish and maintain a Public Register of information such as licences, permits, registrations, environmental audits, Site Management Orders and Better Environment Plans;
- Holders of licences (and other permissions tools as appropriate) would have a requirement to make environmental information available;
- EPA can easily obtain the information it needs to make regulatory decisions (for example, whether to issue a licence);
- EPA can share information with other regulators and government bodies, to better enforce the law and inform decision-making.
For the first time in Victoria, community members affected by alleged breaches of the new environment protection laws would be able to seek direct action through a court.
The Bill includes a new ‘community right’, which would allow courts to enforce the new laws without EPA’s involvement.
Community rights would ensure EPA is held to account in the way it enforces the laws.