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Environment Protection and Heritage Council
23 June 2006
Australian and New Zealand environment ministers and the Australian Local Government Association today agreed that air quality, waste management and water recycling are key issues for the coming year.
The Council also announced a review of the National Environment Protection Council Act 1994 to ensure its relevancy to emerging environment issues.
Ministers did not support the Australian Government’s proposal for a national code on wind farms.
State and Territory Ministers called on the Australian Government not to pass laws to overturn State or Territory laws that prohibit nuclear activities or to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to allow the approval of nuclear power plants.
Council agreed that there should be mandatory reporting and public disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions and agreed to release a draft Variation to the National Pollutant Inventory National Environment Protection Measure for public consultation which includes reporting on greenhouse gas emissions.
Ministers noted progress made in plastic bag reduction and reaffirmed the Council’s resolution to phase out lightweight, single-use plastic bags by the end of 2008. The Council agreed to progress work on nationally-consistent regulatory options. The Council called for retailers to continue to work to meet bag reduction targets and to sign up to the National Packaging Covenant.
In recognition of significant environmental impacts and a $50 million per year cost to the community, Council committed to national action to encourage community involvement in reducing the billions of cigarette butts littered in Australia every year.
As part of its continued commitment to water issues, the Council agreed to bring forward the release of phase one of the National Water Recycling Guidelines and agreed to accelerate the development of phase two of the guidelines and to explore with industry and other stakeholders whether the absence of national product standards for water recycling equipment is inhibiting investment in recycling schemes.
Ministers addressed chemical and air quality issues, focusing on diesel vehicle emissions, managing risks from chemicals and from air pollution, to ensure a more sustainable and breathable future.
Ministers said that they looked forward to working with ministerial colleagues from other Ministerial Councils to progress their forward looking agenda.
The Council announced its new strategic plan which will focus sharply on improving the quality of our urban environment. The plan builds on the substantial progress the Council has made over the last four years in tackling key environmental issues, such as air and water pollution, heritage tourism, water recycling, the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards scheme and Australia’s concerted approach to managing waste. The Council will work with other Ministerial Councils including with the Council of Australian Government on its environment reform agenda.
Ten years on from its implementation, Ministers have initiated a second review of the National Environment Protection Council Act 1994 to ensure that the Act remains relevant to fast-changing and constantly evolving environmental issues and meets the future strategic requirements of the Council.
Council noted progress made in plastic bag reduction and reaffirmed the Councils resolution to phase out lightweight, single-use plastic bags by the end of 2008. The Council agreed to progress work on nationally-consistent regulatory options, including a ban, a government levy, advanced disposal fee and retailer¡¯s charge on bags. It was noted that the Australian Government reiterated its opposition to any government levy. The Council called for retailers to continue to work to meet bag reduction targets and to sign up to the National Packaging Covenant. The Council will continue to work with the Australian National Retailers Association and other industry groups in the lead-up to the phase-out.
Ministers urged industry to help minimise the environmental impacts of consumer packaging. Ministers also finalised the application trigger for the Used Packaging Materials National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM *). Brand owners with annual revenue of less than $5 million will be exempt from enforcement activity.
Ministers welcomed the good progress on the development of a generic product stewardship NEPM , with work being done to establish product stewardship arrangements for the tyre and television industries. A regulatory impact statement for the new NEPM will be made available for public consultation in late 2006.
Ministers directed their officials to report on regulatory options for product stewardship for computers at the November 2006 EPHC meeting, noting that this area presents significant challenges, given the structure of the industry.
The Council has committed to national action to encourage the community to reduce the growing environmental problem of cigarette butt litter. Butt litter has the potential to impact significantly on the environment through tobacco remnants, papers and chemical residues including cadmium, lead and zinc. Every year Australians discard billions of cigarette butts and spend $50 million cleaning them up.
Water was confirmed as a Council priority with Ministers agreeing to release phase one of the National Guidelines for Water Recycling through an out-of-session endorsement with the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council and the Australian Health Ministers Conference. Phase one of the guidelines covers reuse of treated sewage effluent and grey water, and is being developed as part of the National Water Initiative.
Ministers agreed to accelerate the development of phase two of the guidelines and to explore with industry and other stakeholders whether the absence of national product standards for water recycling equipment is inhibiting investment in recycling schemes. Phase 2 will cover stormwater reuse, managed aquifer recharge and recycled water for drinking.
The Council agreed to recommend to the Council of Australian Governments the adoption of mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions and energy data by companies. The recommended approach included:
Council noted that the Australian Government will continue to consult with the States and industry stakeholders, and will establish its position on this issue in the context of COAG.
More than 40 000 chemicals are currently in use in Australia, and managing the environmental impacts of these chemicals is a significant challenge. In recognition of this challenge, the Council has announced the public release of a discussion paper on how to manage the impact of chemicals on the environment more effectively. This paper is a step towards a more comprehensive and streamlined approach to regulating the environmental impacts of chemicals.
Council approved the release for public consultation of a draft Variation to the National Pollutant Inventory National Environment Protection Measure, an impact statement and associated reports. This variation is designed to improve the effectiveness and breadth of the inventory to include the reporting of transfers of NPI substances in waste and of greenhouse gas emissions and other matters identified in the 2005 NPI Review Report. The proposed changes will also align the Australian NPI with similar overseas registers. The views of stakeholders, particularly on the inclusion of greenhouse gases, will be sought through public forums in all capital cities. Written submissions are encouraged.
Greenhouse gas reporting and disclosure pilot programme Ministers received with interest a report on the outcomes of the Greenhouse Gas Reporting and Disclosure Pilot, undertaken by Victoria in conjunction with all states and territories. Council noted the valuable contribution the project has made to decision-making on reporting and making this information available at the national level.
New Zealand and Australia welcomed the opportunity to share experiences in managing priority air quality issues.
While recognising recent improvements made in fuel quality and new vehicle emissions standards, the Council continues to be concerned at the disproportionately high contribution that diesel vehicles make to air pollution. To address this concern, Council announced a review of the National Environment
Protection (Diesel Vehicle Emissions) Measure to ensure it adequately reflects changes to the proportion of Australia’s diesel vehicles compared with other vehicles, the availability of new technologies and experience gained in implementing this measure.
Ministers agreed to initiate a review of the Ambient Air Quality NEPM , which includes air quality standards based on the protection of human health. The review will consider the latest national and international trends in air quality policy and monitoring as well as the most recent information on the health risks posed by air pollution. The review is due to be completed in 2008, and resulting changes to the NEPM will ensure that Australia has the most current and effective policy framework to protect human health from exposure to air pollution.
The Council endorsed a methodology to prioritise air toxics for possible inclusion in the Air Toxics NEPM when it is reviewed in 2008. The methodology ranks pollutants according to the impact of exposure on health and the amount of the pollutant in the air. This ranking will also help states and territories to prioritise actions to address the pollutants of most concern.
Ministers agreed to pursue a Cooperative National Heritage Agenda, a package of initiatives that will include data gathering and new internet-based heritage information to help ensure that Australia’s national, state and local heritage systems work together seamlessly.
Ministers agreed that a national code for wind farms is not required, with the Australian Government recording an alternative view. Ministers also noted the Australian Wind Energy Association (AusWIND) Best Practice Guidelines for Implementation of Wind Energy Projects in Australia and its expectation that developers will comply with the guidelines.
Ministers called upon the Australian Government not to pass a law that overturns a State or Territory law(s) making prescribed nuclear activities illegal and not allow the construction of a nuclear facility on Commonwealth land in a State or Territory where that prescribed nuclear activity would be illegal under State or Territory legislation. Ministers also called on the Australian Government not to amend the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act to allow the approval of nuclear power plants.
Ministers noted the Australian Government’s view that the debate was welcomed, but that these resolutions are premature given the Prime Minister’s taskforce headed by Dr Ziggy Switkowski is currently reviewing issues surrounding uranium mining, processing and nuclear energy.
The Environment Protection and Heritage Council is made up of ministers from all states and territories, as well as the Australian, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea governments and the Australian Local Government Association. It aims to ensure that governments work together with communities to achieve and enhance a healthy natural and cultural environment in harmony with social and economic goals.
For enquiries please contact:
Dr Bruce Kennedy, Executive Officer
NEPC Service Corporation
Phone: 08 8419 1200
*NEPM s are broad framework-setting statutory instruments defined in the National Environment Protection Council Act 1994. They outline national objectives for protecting or managing particular aspects of the environment and are agreed to by the National Environment Protection Council which comprises Australian, state and territory governments.