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Regulators cooperate on polluter profits, rehabilitation guarantees


Source: Footprint News

SA EPA chief, Tony Circelli was recently interviewed by Footprint's Murray Griffin about AELERT, you can visit the site here

Australian regulators are working together to strip polluters of profits made by breaking laws and are exploring new ways to ensure companies can pay for site rehabilitation and clean-up, according to SA EPA chief Tony Circelli.

Circelli is also the chair of the Australasian Environmental Law Enforcement and Regulators network (AELERT), which now counts almost 200 agencies and 1,300 individuals as members.

AELERT is a professional development network for regulators and Circelli told Footprint its current activities include sharing information on how to quantify the financial gains unlawfully made by polluters, so that they can be recovered through the courts.

NSW and Victoria have led work on the development of a tool to calculate illegal profits (see background) and Circelli said South Australia has now signed up to use the version developed by Victoria.

The tool has yet to be used in any court, but Circelli said that is likely to change soon.

"Certainly we will be looking at test cases in the next year or so," he said.

Environmental insurance

AELERT has also been discussing the potential to rquire companies to obtain insurance for certain activities that carry a pollution risk, although Circelli noted there are still issues to be resolved.

Although regulators can already impose financial assurance obligations and bond provisions, a requirement to obtain insurance could also be useful in some circumstances, Circelli said.

Insurance obligations are widely used in the US, but there is "a question mark" over whether the Australian market is large enough for its widespread use to be viable here, he said.

"How do you create a market that is going to work in Australia?"

"There is no point us putting a requirement on a company to have an insurance policy if they can't get one here," he said.

Improving communications

Circelli said AELERT has also been putting plenty of work into strengthening the capacity of regulators to communicate about risk with businesses and concerned communities.

 "We've had example after example where regulators have struggled to meet the expectations of communities around engagement," he said.

"It is a big challenge for all regulatory agencies."

It's also resource-intensive, but Circelli noted that the South Australian EPA had demonstrated the benefits of improved communication.

The state's EPA has had to deal with some complex site contamination cases, and improved risk communication has delivered "significant benefit and gain in terms of being able to avoid the unnecessary alarm and anxiety that often occurs", he said.

Circelli said an AELERT working group on risk communication is developing a best practice toolkit, the first of its kind in Australia.

Surviving swooping season


Source: EHP QLD and other various articles
Image: Kylie Goldsmith

September heralds the start of ‘magpie swooping season’. It’s commonplace for some of us to recall the blur of wings and the click of that beak with a strange level of nostalgia, but it is sobering to realise that some of these attacks cause real damage and injury. So what is going on with these otherwise favourite Aussie icons?

A small but conspicuous proportion of magpies throughout the country begin to attack otherwise innocent people. This protective group often have a preference for certain types of ‘targets’ like pedestrians and cyclists.

A magpie will only defend its nest within a ‘defence zone’. For pedestrians, this is usually an area within 110m and for cyclists it is 150m.

Almost all swoops on people are carried out by male magpies defending their eggs and chicks, which are in the nest for about six to eight weeks between July and November.

Magpies often become more aggressive as the chicks become older, but swooping usually stops once the young have left the nest.

A magpie’s defensive behaviour can range from a non-contact swoop with or without beak snapping, through to pecking, dive-bombing and sometimes front-on attacks from the ground.

A few attacks are more serious leading to bloodied ears and cheeks or even eye injury. The risk of eye injury means all magpie attacks need to be taken seriously.

Being so common and virtually omnipresent in Australia, this phenomenon has led to the development of lots of counter-measures including:

- Adding eyes on the back of your hat (or an ice cream container).
- Madly running while waving a stick.
- Adding a variety of decoration to your bike helmet such as cable ties.

Such tactics can be roughly placed into one of three categories:

- Attempts to change the magpies’ behaviour (futile).
- Protection of the head by any means (well worth trying).
- Avoiding the “attack zone” (probably your best bet).

Several councils and government agencies have set up ‘magpie alert’ sites where you can stay up to date with local attacks to ensure you are kept informed of danger zones.

Additionally, there is a user generated site called Magpie Alert which covers attacks across the nation while also entertaining you with individual stories – check it out here.

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Charbon Coal found criminally negligent and ordered to pay $175,000 plus costs


The Defendant, pleaded guilty to the offence of ‘building a haul road in a location other than the approved route’ and not complying with the EPA Act.

NSW Land and Environment Court’s, Justice Nicola Pain fined Charbon Coal Pty Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Centennial Coal, for breaching an EPA approval condition by positioning the haul road in an unapproved location.

By moving the road route, the defendant disturbed an Aboriginal cultural heritage site that the company knew was in the vicinity and cleared endangered vegetation.

The judge noted the offence was due solely to a systemic failure to check and monitor Big Rim’s compliance with the environmental assessment, and the defendant had full knowledge of the planned construction of the road in a location that was not in accordance with the conditions of approval.

The defendant "should have been well aware of the need to comply with the conditions of approval", the judge said, and the decision to build the road in a different location to avoid a steeper gradient warranted a finding of negligence.

By moving the route, the company disturbed a heritage site, with consequences that were culturally considerable because it made the location inaccessible, according to an expert witness called by the Department of Planning and Environment.

The action also caused avoidable environmental damage.

The company cleared 2.04 hectares of vegetation in building the haul road, including 0.59 hectares of threatened box gum rather than the approved 1.21 hectares which did not include any box gum woodland.

The mine has since closed, but Justice Pain rejected the company's arguments that its rehabilitation efforts constituted evidence of good corporate character.

"The rehabilitation of the mine site was a condition of the project approval," she said.

The company had also received a penalty notice in March for a breach of approval, the judge noted.

“Although it does not weigh heavily on my consideration of the relevant matters, the issuance of the penalty notice as recently as March 2016 for a breach of a condition of approval indicates that the Defendant has not at all times observed the conditions of approval outside the circumstances of the present offence.”

Justice Pain added that the penalty should serve as a general deterrent, including to Centennial Coal, which operates other mines.

The Court considered the appropriate penalty for this offense as $250,000, which Justice Pain discounted by 30% to $175,000, in light of the early guilty plea and other mitigating factors. The company has also agreed to pay the prosecutor's costs of $55,000.

Full court document here.


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WA State Government announce introduction of Container Deposit Scheme


West Australian Premier Colin Barnett announced this month that WA will introduce a container deposit scheme by mid-2018.  Similar to the scheme run in SA and NT, eligible beverage containers will pay back 10 cents to the consumer.

The National Litter Index shows that Western Australia has the largest litter volume in Australia.

Premier Colin Barnett said the drink containers were some of the most commonly littered items.

"Water bottles, beer cans and bottles, soft drink can and small milk cartons will be eligible under the recycling scheme."

“With a 10 cent refund available, there is a greater incentive to recycle as everyone can benefit from doing the right thing,” he said.

The scheme will operate out of reverse vending machines, with Environment Minister Albert Jacob flagging deposits could be made through PayPass technology.

“It will benefit charities, sporting groups and community groups by allowing them to profit by participating in large-scale recycling activities. It’s a win for the environment, jobs, the community and the recycling industry.” he said.

A network of collection depots and reverse vending machines will receive the empty containers. Reverse vending machines will be positioned at parks, beaches and other public spaces throughout WA.

EPA SA leads the charge, cracking down on illegal tanning salons


An Adelaide man running a backyard solarium business has become the first person in Australia to be convicted under the laws banning commercial sun tanning services.

Jake Martin-Herde, 28, of Salisbury Downs who was found in possession of three tanning beds offered for use and advertised through social media, has appeared in the Adelaide Magistrates Court today for sentencing on two charges of offering and providing cosmetic tanning for a fee to the public.

Mr Martin-Herde who pleaded guilty to the charges in May, was fined a total of $2,100 and ordered to pay $900 in prosecution costs, in addition to $160 for a Victims of Crime levy.

The conviction and fine is the first successful prosecution under the legislation brought in by the State Government in 2015.

He faced a maximum $10,000 fine for each count but received a heavy discount for his guilty plea.

SA EPA Chief Executive Tony Circelli said this case highlights the need to stamp out the use of tanning beds for a profit and sends a strong message to the community.

“This activity is illegal because of its potential to have serious health problems to people who are frequently exposed to the radiation that is emitted from sunbeds,” Mr. Circelli said.

He said the health risks of UV radiation exposure from sun beds is backed up by Cancer Council SA and the Australasian College of Dermatologists.

The Radiation Protection and Control (Non-Ionising Radiation) Regulations came into effect in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, ACT and Queensland on January 1 last year.

A ban was deemed unnecessary in the Northern Territory because there are no sun-bed operators.

Western Australia became the last state to implement a ban on commercial tanning beds, introducing the ban from January 1 this year, and has offered operators compensation for any remaining beds still in use.  

Further media stories: Adelaide Now; Yahoo News