Environmental Liabilities Re-established

The Environmental Liabilities Community of Practice (CoP) has been re-established. This CoP sits under the Operations Cluster and focuses on finding common ground with jurisdictions looking for approaches to managing environmental liabilities, including the use of financial assurances.

Please welcome Joanne Stuart as the new Environmental Liabilities Chair. Joanne is the Manager of Regulatory Practice and Programs, part of the Contaminated Land Management Section at the NSW Environment Protection Agency (EPA). Joanne has worked with the NSW EPA for 20 years, her expertise includes engaging in regulatory reform in important, but not always visible, areas such as petroleum storage systems, increases in penalty amounts, and development of regulatory tools. One of her current tasks is a review and remake of the Underground Petroleum Storage Systems Regulation.

While each jurisdiction has its own challenges, the newly reconstituted Environmental Liabilities CoP aims to recognise successful approaches, learn from precedents, and share this knowledge among jurisdictions.

Issues vary in size and scope. Queensland has experience managing the environmental impacts of mining, in particular coal seam gas extraction, while Victoria has been working on financial assurances related to landfill after EPA Victoria was called to conduct clean-up operations following illegal dumping of tyres.

Financial assurances mitigate the risk of companies, such as now bankrupt Linc Energy, from walking away from environmental damage. The negligence in this instance cost taxpayers upwards of $30 million to clean up. In Victoria, an illegal tyre dump at Numurkah, saw taxpayers’ foot a $1.5 million bill. Financial assurances can cover any foreseen environmental degradation, ensuring companies take responsibility for environmental protection.

Financial assurances can take the form of a bond, commitments to undertake specific works including monitoring and maintaining containment cells, and post-closure rehabilitation. Joanne explains that a financial assurance is intended to cover the EPA's 'reasonable costs' in the event the EPA had to undertake these works. Monitoring and enforcement is ongoing, with licences to operate on land up for periodic review.

Managing environmental liabilities is only going to grow in importance and intricacy, so the relaunch of the Environmental Liabilities Community of Practice is a good opportunity for the AELERT network to discuss emerging issues and share their expertise.

If you would like to join the Environmental Liabilities CoP or find out more information, contact the Chair, Joanne Stuart through our Members Directory.

Image: Sitting in the NSW EPA Regulatory Practice and Programs Unit is the Environmental Liabilities team, with Kim Boxsell, Magdalena Paszkiewicz, Audrey Yim, and Joanne Stuart.