The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has recently fined South Coast Plant Hire Pty Ltd (South Coast), a resource recovery facility in Bomaderry, $30,000 for allegedly breaching its licence conditions and discharging waste water from the site.
It is alleged that South Coast Plant Hire failed in its responsibilities when its operations led to polluted water flowing off-site.
In December 2017, the EPA carried out a site inspection and found a containment system holding polluted water had overflowed. The water was used to suppress dust and contained waste water from stockpiles.
The EPA issued a clean-up notice directing South Coast to clean-up the area where the discharge occurred and put measures in place to prevent further pollution. Two penalty notices were subsequently issued to South Coast totalling $30,000.
Clean up notices, prevention notices and penalty notices are some of the tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance.
Pursuant to s 92 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act), the EPA is able to issue a clean-up notice when it reasonably suspects that a pollution incident has occurred or is occurring or when the release of a pollutant is likely or imminent. The notices may direct that action is taken to prevent, minimise, remove, disperse, destroy or mitigate pollution resulting from or likely to occur from an incident. The notice details the specific clean-up action required and a time frame for completion.
A prevention notice can be issued under s 96 the POEO Act when the EPA reasonably suspects that an activity has been or is being carried out in an ‘environmentally unsatisfactory manner’. Notices specify preventive actions that must be taken to improve environmental performance. Section 96(3) provides a non-exhaustive list of examples of actions that may be directed to be carried out by a prevention notice such as installing or repairing controls to prevent water pollution, carrying on an activity in a particular manner or restricting such activity only during particular times. A prevention notice may order that plant or equipment is not operated until the EPA is satisfied appropriate controls to prevent or minimise pollution or waste are in place.
Penalty notices are able to be issued under a wide range of legislation administered by the EPA including the following and their associated Regulations:
- Contaminated Land Management Act 1997
- Dangerous Goods (Road and Rail Transport) Act 2008
- Environmentally Hazardous Chemicals Act 1985
- Environmental Trust Act 1998
- National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974
- Native Vegetation Act 2003
- Pesticides Act 1999
- Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991
- Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997
- Radiation Control Act 1990
- Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995
- Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Act 2001
The EPA may issue penalty notices:
- for minor breaches when the facts appear obvious and a penalty notice is likely to be a viable deterrent
- to allow the person served with the notice to pay a fine rather than have the alleged offence dealt with in court
Penalty notices are designed primarily to deal with one-off breaches that can be remedied easily. The EPA does not generally issue simultaneous or successive penalty notices for multiple or ongoing breaches of the legislation. Instances where there is obviously a continuing environmental or compliance problem, even though each breach may be comparatively minor, are usually dealt with by issuing other appropriate notices or through court proceedings.
For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy and EPA Prosecution Guidelines at www.epa.nsw.gov.au/legislation/prosguid.htm