In response to industry feedback, the Queensland Government has included temporary amendments to the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (EP Act) in their Justice and Other Legislation (COVID-19 Emergency Response) Amendment Bill 2020 (Response Bill), which was introduced on 19 May 2020.
- The Minister will be given the power to make a declaration waiving compliance of stated holders, approvals and/or conditions because of the COVID-19 emergency.
- A person may ask the Department of Environment and Science (DES) to issue a temporary authority to carry out an environmentally relevant activity because of the COVID-19 emergency.
- The proposed amendments to the EP Act would stay in place until 31 December 2020, with any declared waivers of compliance in effect until 30 June 2021 at the latest.
Proposed amendments at a glance
The Response Bill proposes to insert a new Chapter 11A “Provisions relating to COVID-19 emergency” into the EP Act. The proposed Chapter 11A grants, if deemed reasonable because of the COVID-19 emergency:
- the Minister, the power to make a declaration waiving compliance of stated holders, approvals and/or conditions because of the COVID-19 emergency; and
- DES, the power to issue temporary authorities if requested by a person to carry out an environmentally relevant activity.
Waiver of compliance power
The proposed ministerial power to declare waivers of compliance is broadly drafted and has important considerations for all site operators with any stated environmental approvals.
The Minister can declare by notice published on its website that either:
- specifies the holders, approval and conditions to which the exemption applies; or
- grants a blanket exemption for specified conditions in a certain type of approval.
The stated approvals include an approval of a transitional environmental program; an environmental authority; a temporary authority (see below); or a temporary emissions licence.
The Explanatory Notes acknowledge that compliance with some conditions has become impossible without breaching other COVID-19 restrictions, and includes the example of conditions that require monitoring and reporting.
Temporary authorities power
The second proposed amendment grants DES the power to decide whether to issue a temporary authority upon request. The temporary authorities are intended to allow persons to continue their activities without going through the process of applying for a new environmental authority or amending an existing one.
A temporary authority is available in limited circumstances where issuing it is a necessary and reasonable response to the effect of the COVID-19 emergency on the intensity or scale of the environmentally relevant activity.
The Response Bill is in the early stages of the Parliamentary process and will be subject to detailed consideration (and potentially amendment) prior to being passed. We will follow the Response Bill as it passes through Parliament.
In the meantime, we encourage any site operators to contact us if they have questions about the Response Bill or otherwise how you may start to engage with DES in respect of the proposed amendments.