On 15 March 2016, Hon Dr Steven Miles MP, Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection and Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef, introduced the Environmental Protection (Chain of Responsibility) Amendment Bill 2016 to the Queensland Parliament.
The Bill was referred to the Agriculture and Environment Committee for consideration and report to the House by 15 April 2016.
The Bill proposes to amend the Environmental Protection Act 1994 to:
- facilitate enhanced environmental protection for sites operated by companies in financial difficulty
- avoid the State bearing the costs for managing and rehabilitating sites in financial difficulty.
The closing date for lodging submissions is Thursday 31 March 2016.
Summary of the Bill
The Environmental Protection (Chain of Responsibility) Amendment Bill 2016 (the Bill) has been introduced in response to concerns surrounding compliance with the rehabilitation requirements following financial difficulties for various projects across the state in particular the Yabulu Nickel Refinery, the Texas Silver Mine, the Collingwood Tin Mine and the Mount Chalmers Gold Mine.
The Bill exposes a large range of business executives, operators and investors to the risk of Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP) enforcement of clean up and rehabilitation costs through an environmental protection order (EPO). The 'related person' will bear some responsibility for the actions of the company operating the site and may be issued to a 'related person' of a company.
Under the Bill, a ‘related person’ may include:
- a holding company of a company carrying out the activity with a ‘financial interest’ in the company;
- a person who owns land in which the relevant activity is or has carried out the relevant activity under its environmental authority;
- a person who has a ‘relevant connection’ with the company. 'Relevant connection' is defined in the Bill as where the person must have benefited financially, or been capable of benefiting financially, from the carrying out of the relevant activities or have been in a position to influence the company’s conduct in relation to the environmental obligations.
- a person who is in a position to influence (including legal or practical ability to exert influence) the company’s compliance.
The Bill also:
- enables DEHP to amend environmental authorities to impose a condition requiring the provision of financial assurance;
- expands DEHP powers to compel a person to answer questions on alleged offences (for example, compelling employees of a company in financial difficulty to answer questions about alleged offences committed by that company); and,
- ensures that authorised environmental officers have powers to access sites no longer subject to an environmental authority and sites subject to an environmental authority but no longer in operation.