A tale of two states: EPA reviews in NSW and Victoria

Reviews have been underway in NSW and Victoria into their respective Environment Protection Agencies (EPAs).

In NSW, this review was instigated in response to ongoing community concerns about the EPA’s management of pollution events, and widespread perception of the EPA as reluctant to enforce environmental standards.

The NSW state government’s response to the review has been disappointing. Firstly, the inquiry recommended that the state’s Chief Scientist be commissioned to advise on coal dust minimisation techniques. That has not yet been initiated, despite several months elapsing. In her dissenting report, Parliamentary Committee member Mehreen Faruqi MLC recommended the coal industry simply be instructed to cover wagons, consistent with the recommendations of the 2013 Senate Inquiry into the Health Impacts of Air Pollution. Her recommendation has been rejected by the government.

Another issue is the oversight of the EPA. At the moment, the CEO of the EPA is also Chair of the organisation’s board, meaning that if citizens have complaints about the actions of the EPA, the only person to whom they can elevate their issues is the same person in charge of the organisation they are complaining about. Although the review recommended separating these roles, nothing will be done in the short term. Instead, the governance regime of the NSW EPA will be considered as part of a broader review of reviewing governance frameworks of all statutory entities in NSW.

In fact, of the report’s 17 recommendations, the NSW government has only agreed to act on seven – a very disappointing result for people in NSW who are seeking to protect their communities from pollution, and one that will not go far enough to rebuild the trust the EPA has lost from NSW residents.

Meanwhile, in Victoria, a Ministerial Advisory Committee has released a discussion paper about the role of the EPA in that state. This includes a request for citizens to provide their views as to what ‘environmental justice’ should look like in the context of Victorian environmental regulation and the work of the EPA.

The review will also consider the EPA’s role in responding to pollution events, including air pollution. In the context of the Hazelwood Mine Fire, where confusion arose as to different agencies’ roles in responding to the concerns of the Latrobe Valley Residents and whether the EPA should focus on data collection or also provide interpretation of pollution information.

The EPA’s role in tackling climate change will also feature in the review. The response to this complex problem includes many agencies across all levels of government, but there is a need to determine the extent to which the EPA monitors and reports on carbon pollution and how regulatory tools may need to change to respond to this fast moving threat.

Submissions are due by 31 October. Environmental Justice Australia are working on a submission on the best way for the Victorian EPA to deliver environmental justice, clean air and a safe climate to all Victorians.

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