New legislation will be commencing mid-2019, which will introduce greater protection measures for the Great Barrier Reef into the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act) and Regulations.
There will be implications for certain industrial and agricultural activities that are located within the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) Catchment area, which includes the six Reef regions – Cape York, Wet Tropics, Burdekin, the Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and the Burnett Mary. Refer to the plan below for an illustration of the GBR Catchment area.
GBR Catchment Area (figure reprinted from Qld.gov.au - 2019)
EP ACT CHANGES
The Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 was introduced into Parliament in February 2019. The intent of the Bill is to:
Introduce GBR water quality targets for nutrients and sediments. These targets will be considered by the State in regulatory decision-making.
Introduce minimum regulated standards in an effort to eradicate “high risk practices” in the GBR catchment area that contribute to elevated nutrient and sediment run-off.
Shift producer standards to align with benchmarks for agricultural industries under the Paddock to Reef Water Quality Risk Framework.
Enable new developments to occur in a way that doesn’t compromise water quality gains made to date and minimise the regulatory burden for existing activities.
Reward “good performers” who utilise lower risk practices in relation to water quality.
Recognise existing industry-led best management practice (BMP) programs and facilitate development of new programs that will provide alternative pathways to operators for meeting regulatory requirements.
Establish a framework for water quality offsets to manage water quality impacts across industry.
Majority of the changes proposed are focused on the agricultural sector; however, some of the reforms will have broader reaching impacts on other ‘industrial’ activities that are carried out in the GBR Catchment area. The following sections provide a summary of the key changes that may have implications for mining and extractive industry activities.
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION (WATER) POLICY 2009 AMENDMENT
The Environmental Protection (Water) Policy 2009 (EPP (Water)) is used by the State to guide regulatory decision-making to manage impacts of ERAs on Queensland waters. Examples of when the State may use the EPP (Water) are for assessment of new Environmental Authority (EA) application and EA amendment applications.
The Bill proposes to amend the EPP (Water) to incorporate catchment load limits, which will be reviewed every five years to correspond with the five-year review cycle for the water quality targets. The catchment load limits will be set at the maximum annual end-of-basin volumes of dissolved inorganic nitrogen and fine sediments.
These target load limits will be considered by the State for any application for a new EA in the GBR Catchment area. The specific targets that would be applied to each site are uncertain, as the current load limit targets are based on a river basin scale.
Prescribed and resource ERAs that do not release any waters within a Reef catchment will not be impacted by the changes to the EPP (Water).
WATER QUALITY OFFSETS
Under the Bill, new, expanding or intensifying resource activities (e.g. mining, petroleum) and prescribed ERAs (e.g. extractive industry) in the GBR Catchment area will need to achieve a ‘no net decline’ standard for nutrient and sediment releases.
Where activities cannot avoid or mitigate impacts to water quality, the impact can be offset via a voluntary offset condition that will be determined in accordance with a new Point Source Water Quality Offsets Policy. The intent of the voluntary offsets is to provide operators with an alternative way of meeting the new GBR Catchment area release standards where offsets are a more viable proposition for meeting release limits.
WHAT WE RECOMMEND YOU DO NEXT
The date for the release of the final amended EPP (Water) and Point Source Water Quality Offsets Policy is yet to be set. More broadly, the State has advised that if the Bill passes, the new legislative reforms are expected to commence in mid-2019.
If you are planning to commence any new activities, or make changes to your current activities, within the GBR Catchment area, you may be affected by these reforms from mid-2019 onwards.
GET IN TOUCH
If you need any further information on this reform package, contact Yoland Dowling (email@example.com) or David Doolan (firstname.lastname@example.org), or call (07) 3871 0411.