Cutting red tape - an overview of recent changes to Queensland's environmental licensing regime

Environment eBulletin - 24 April 2013

Summary

As part of the Queensland government’s commitment to reducing red tape by 20%, changes to the environmental licensing regime under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (Act) and Environmental Protection Regulation 2008 (Qld) (Regulations) came into force on 31 March 2013.

The changes are intended to streamline the process for obtaining an environmental authority for “environmentally relevant activities” (ERA) without compromising environmental standards.

In this e-bulletin, we outline the key changes to the Act and Regulations, with a specific focus on the new environmental licensing framework. andWe also provide an overview of what existing environmental approval holders should know.

 

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The new environmental licensing regime

The most significant change to the Act and Regulations has been the introduction of a new environmental licensing regime, which has resulted in, among other things: 

  • the deletion of 20 ERAs from Schedule 2 of the Regulations, for example, chemical storage (at certain limits), abrasive blasting, as well as sewage treatment (at certain design capacity). These activities are considered to have a lower level of environmental risk that could be adequately addressed at the planning stage; 
  • the introduction of an integrated approval process for all ERAs, which allows for varied levels of assessment based on the level of environmental risk; 
  • a separated and streamlined process for obtaining a development approval and environmental authority through the introduction of "concurrence ERAs"; and 
  • the removal of the requirement to have a registration certificate once you have been registered as a suitable operator.

 

Integrated approval process for assessing ERAs

If your organisation wishes to undertake an ERA listed in Schedule 2 of the Regulations (prescribed ERA) - for example, certain agricultural and intensive animal industry activities, chemical activities or waste management - you must apply for an environmental authority.

If your organisation wishes to undertake a resource activity, such as mining, petroleum, geothermal or greenhouse gas storage activities, you will also require an environmental authority, in addition to an application for tenure for the resource activity.

The process for applying for an environmental authority depends on whether the activity requires a development approval under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Qld) (Planning Act), relating to a material change of use.

Concurrence ERAs

If the ERA is a “concurrence ERA”, which is identified as such by a “C” next to the ERA in Schedule 2 of the Regulations, a development application must be made under the Planning Act for a development permit.

The application will be made to the relevant assessment manager through the Integrated Development Assessment System under the Planning Act.

Importantly, to reduce red tape, only a single application is now required, as the development application will also be taken as an application for an environmental authority to carry out an ERA.

This application will be referred to the administering authority, as a concurrence agency, for consideration at the decision making stage. The administering authority may be the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP), Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, or the local government.

If the application process is successful, you will be issued with a development approval and an environmental authority. This is intended to allow operating conditions of an environmental authority to be amended, without affecting land use conditions in the development permit.

Where a development permit is not required

If the ERA is not a concurrence ERA, a development permit will no longer be required. However, you should cross check this against any local government planning requirements, which may still require an assessment of the activity under a local planning scheme.

If a development permit is not required, you can simply make an application for an environmental authority under the Act. The application process will differ based on the level of environmental risk associated with the activity sought to be undertaken. The recent changes have introduced three types of environmental authority applications. 

  • A standard application can be submitted for eligible ERAs that can adhere to standard conditions and meet the eligibility criteria. This type of application will generally apply to low environmental risk activities. The DEHP has already specified a number of eligible ERAs and will continue to do so following ongoing consultation. 
  • A variation application can be submitted if you meet the eligibility criteria under the standard application, but you wish to change a standard condition. 
  • A site specific application is to be made for all other applications.

Variation and site specific applications will require you to provide an assessment of the likely impact of each of the proposed activities on the environment.

The application is to be made to the relevant administering authority. On receipt of the application (and most specifically for variation and site specific applications), the administering authority may request further information to assist in assessing the application. Depending on the nature of the activity proposed to be undertaken, it may also require the lodgement of an environmental impact statement. Some applications (generally resource activities) will then pass through a public notification stage before a final decision is made to issue the environmental authority.

The DEHP expects that the tiered application process will result in a significant reduction in cost, processing times and the amount of material required for an application. Separating the environmental authority and development permit process is also anticipated to result in time saving and reduced uncertainty.

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What do existing operators need to know?

If you already hold an environmental authority, you should be aware of the following points. 

  • If you have a registration certificate and development permit for a prescribed ERA, you will automatically be registered as a suitable operator, hold an environmental authority with conditions from your development permit and no longer require a registration certificate. 
  • If the ERA that you were licensed for has been deleted and an environmental authority is no longer required for this ERA, you will still need to comply with any environmental conditions in your development permit. However, you will no longer be required to submit an annual return or pay annual fees. 
  • As the DEHP will be introducing further eligibility and standard conditions, you should monitor these developments so that you can consider whether you should make a conversion application and transition to new standard conditions (though this is not compulsory). 
  • Organisations that have multiple sites in Queensland with multiple environmental authorities can apply for an amalgamated corporate authority, project authority or local government authority. This will allow all environmental authorities that are issued by the same administering authority and held by the same legal entity to be combined into one central environmental authority, thereby reducing administrative burden as the anniversary date will be the same.

It is also important to bear in mind that, despite the deregulation of some ERAs, all organisations maintain an overriding obligation under the Act to prevent and minimise environmental harm and not cause serious or material harm, nor cause an environmental nuisance.

Authors
Geraldine Cini | Lawyer
Breellen Warry | Senior Associate

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Further information

All information on this site is of a general nature only and is not intended to be relied upon as, nor to be a substitute for, specific legal professional advice. No responsibility for the loss occasioned to any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material published can be accepted.

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