The Hon Tony Burke MP
Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Greater protection for water resources
12 March 2013
The Gillard Government is implementing greater environmental protection for water resources impacted by coal seam gas and large coal mining developments.
Environment Minister Tony Burke will introduce amendments to Australia’s national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 that will require federal assessment and approval of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments which have a significant impact on a water resource.
“Australia’s water resources are among our most vital natural resources and it is important that we ensure they are protected,” Mr Burke said.
“The proposed amendments will ensure that coal seam gas and large coal mining developments must be assessed and approved under national environment law, if they are likely to have a significant impact on a water resource.
“The community expectation has always been that we would take this into account. But up until now, we have only been able to take account of water to the extent there has been an impact on issues such as threatened species or a RAMSAR wetland.
“Realistically whenever I have made a decision on coal seam gas, the Australian public would expect that we are taking into account all the impacts on our precious water resources. This change gives me as Australia’s Environment Minister the capacity to do just that.”
Mr Burke said while the Government is seeking more information from businesses, we are not seeking to have a needlessly delayed process as a result.
“The additional information required in many instances will involve data that has already been collected in the state approval process,” Mr Burke said.
“By becoming a matter of national environmental significance it will have the full resources of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee and the analysis that flows as a result of that. For projects that are early in the approval process they will be able to incorporate the additional matter of environmental significance at whatever stage they are at.
“For projects which are already undergoing an assessment, they will not be required to restart their environmental impact assessment from the beginning. Rather my department is writing to every company affected advising them as to what the additional information is, so that they can get to work on that straight away.”
These changes provide a sound Commonwealth legislative basis for the role of the IESC in national environmental approvals, and support the existing scientific process agreed by States last year and that have been operating since that time.
Mr Burke said there have been significant concerns raised by communities around Australia about the impact of coal seam gas on ground water and surface water resources.
“We remain committed to the efficient administration of environmental law and our focus is on working directly with business, the states, and the community to ensure that the Australian public is confident that strong environmental protections are in place.”
Mr Burke said the IESC established by the Gillard Government last year will continue to provide advice for coal seam gas and large coal mining projects which may require federal assessment, including assessments of impacts on water resources.