Victoria cleans house with new environmental protection laws

New Environment Protection Requirements

From 1 July 2021, businesses operating in Victoria will be required to comply with the new Environment Protection Act (2017) (“EPA Act”).

Chief amongst the changes to Victoria’s environmental protection laws is the new general environmental duty (“GED”). The GED requires organisations and individuals engaging in activities that may give rise to risks of harm to human health or the environment, or from pollution or waste, to minimise those risks, so far as reasonably practicable.

Businesses who don’t take active steps to minimise their pollution risks will face civil or criminal penalties, including fines of up to $3.2 million or maximum five years’ imprisonment.

What constitutes “reasonable steps” will vary depending on the circumstances of the business but generic or cookie-cutter policies and procedures are unlikely to be sufficient. Businesses will need to ensure that their procedures, compliance documents and training are fit for purpose and tailored to the particular environmental protection risks they face.

Other key changes include:

  • Replacing the old environmental approvals and licensing regime with “permissions” – businesses will need to apply for and receive one of three tiers of permissions, depending on the level of risk to human health and the environment. Existing approval and license holders will be converted over to the relevant permission under the new law.
  • Obligation to report notifiable incidents – businesses must report any incidents that cause or threaten to cause harm to the environment and human health to the Environmental Protection Authority Victoria (“the EPA”). These reports must be made as soon as practicable.
  • New duties relating to contaminated land– businesses must minimise risks of harm from contamination on sites that it manages or controls. Businesses must also notify the EPA of contamination in certain situations.
  • Greater enforcement powers for the EPA and increased penalties for breaches (up to $3.2 million for corporations).

With the advent of the new law, it’s crucial that businesses have procedures and documentation in place to actively and continually manage their environmental risks.

World Environment Day

The theme for World Environment Day 2021 is ecosystem regeneration.

Reimagine. Recreate. Restore.

Key to creating a focus on ecosystem regeneration is a general change in attitude towards environmental issues. It cannot be acceptable to leave environment protection and regeneration to the authorities or to the experts. The Victorian general environmental duty, applying as it does to all Victorians, is a start in creating a general sense of ownership of environmental issues.

There are some interesting examples on the EPA Victoria website on what complying with the GED means for individuals.

GRC Solutions training resources

Environmental Compliance-Australia

  • Module 1: Introduction to environmental law
  • Module 2: Land contamination and waste
  • Module 3: Air and water pollution
  • Module 4: Managing risk and responding to incidents
  • Module 5: Licences and approvals

The course has been updated to cover the new Victorian legislation.

Risk Management Suite