Local Government Legal

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April 2012 – Changes to Pollution Notification Requirements

Important changes have been made to the duty to notify provisions of pollution incidents as a result of amendments to the Protection of the Environment Act 1997. Now, all pollution incidents causing or threatening material harm to the environment must be notified “immediately after the person becomes aware of the incident” (the legislation previously provided for notification “as soon as practicable”). Though “immediately” is not defined in the legislation, the EPAs website states that it means “promptly and without delay”.

Whereas notification was previously required to be given to the “appropriate regulatory authority” (“ARA”), now “each relevant authority” is required to be notified (our emphasis). The term “relevant authority” means any of the following:

(a)    the ARA,

(b)   if the EPA is not the ARA—the EPA,

(c)    if the EPA is the ARA—the local authority (e.g. the local council) for the area in which the pollution incident occurs,

(d)   the Ministry of Health,

(e)   the WorkCover Authority,

(f)    Fire and Rescue NSW.

Now, the person carrying on the activity, an employee or agent carrying on the activity, an employer carrying on the activity and the occupier of the premises where the incident occurs, all have a duty to notify of a pollution incident. Failure to report an incident is an offence for which the maximum penalty is $2,000,000 for corporations, or $500,000 for individuals.

The Protection of the Environment Legislation Amendment Act 2011 also establishes a Chairperson of the EPA and makes other amendments. Apart from the provisions creating a duty to prepare and implement pollution incident response management plans, the provisions of this Act have all come into force.

Note:  This information is not be relied on as legal advice

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