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Environmental Protection Agency - Sewage Spills - Tamar River

Ms ARMITAGE question to LEADER of the GOVERNMENT in the LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL, Mrs HISCUTT


[3.01 p.m.]


There is a short preamble to this question because of how it relates to Estimates.


I refer to questions relating to the Environmental Protection Agency and answers provided during the discussion on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) on 18 June 2019. In answer to my question about how long the EPA would tolerate the sewage spillages into the Tamar River, the Leader answered for the Director of the EPA -


Until someone provides $200 million to fix it up, that is what it is. The EPA cannot say 'fix it today' because how is that going to be done without $200 million or so? When that funding is there, it will be fixed.


Will the Leader please advise -

 

  1. Is it the position that the EPA is determining sewage spills into the Tamar River and the correction of this environmental disaster based on cost?
     

  2. If so, does this mean the EPA is determining environmental issues on cost alone?
     

  3. Does this mean, when an environmental issue arises - that is, pollution is occurring - that if the cost to fix the problem is beyond the means of the polluter to fix it, it will be tolerated until the finance is available, if ever?
     

  4. Is it right and acceptable the EPA should take into account the cost incurred in its decision-making process, in determining whether pollution is to stop and corrective action taken?
     

  5. Should the EPA determine any environmental matter only on the pollution level and damage it is doing and not take into account the cost to rectify the cause?
     

  6. Is raking of the Tamar River still occurring? If not, what is the reason for ceasing the raking?

ANSWER


Mr President, I thank the member for Launceston for her question. I have quite a lengthy couple of pages here.


(1) No, it is not the position, and it will be referred to more in (4).


The EPA regulates seven level 2 wastewater treatment plants in the Greater Launceston area, with the latest at Ti-Tree Bend receiving stormwater from inner Launceston's combined sewerage and stormwater system.


The EPA focuses its regulatory efforts on ensuring TasWater optimises the performance of all seven plants and meets discharge to water limits for treated effluent while the Launceston Sewerage Improvement Project progresses.


The EPA requires TasWater to take corrective actions on significant spills or overflows of untreated effluent from each plant and associated reticulation during dry weather. It typically does not take action on wet weather spills from these plants, including spills from Ti-Tree Bend caused by the combined system.


(2) The EPA's approach to making determinations on environmental issues has a legislative basis in the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994. In administering and enforcing the EMPCA, the EPA makes its best endeavours to ensure the objectives of the Environmental Management and Pollution Control System established by the EMPCA are furthered.


A specific objective concerns equitable allocation of costs of environmental protection and restoration, including in a manner that encourages responsible use of, and reduces harm to, the environment, with polluters bearing the appropriate share of costs that arise from their activities. This objective is one of 11 objectives for the system.


Hence, the EPA is obliged to give some consideration to certain costs when making environmental determinations, but it is not the sole consideration. Such decision-making is further complicated when significant legacy issues, such as those affecting Launceston's sewerage system, must also be considered.


It should also be highlighted that the Australian Government and the Tasmanian Government have committed to priority projects under the River Health Action Plan in the order of $84.6 million to undertake actions on Launceston's combined sewerage and stormwater system.


It is expected the recommended actions will result in a reduction of 70 per cent of the pathogen load entering zone 1 of the river from the combined system and a 20 per cent reduction in the pathogen load from the catchments.


(3) If pollution is occurring at levels likely to cause environmental harm or nuisance, the EPA will regulate the polluter to reduce the discharge to acceptable levels and remediate damage in a reasonable time frame but otherwise as quickly as possible. If cost or other resourcing is an issue, the EPA typically works with the polluter to develop a practicable schedule of progressive improvements or interim measures that yield environmental benefit, and enforces this schedule.


(4) For practical reasons, the EPA includes remediation costs as one consideration in its regulatory decision-making. However, its principal concern is ensuring sustainable and acceptable environmental outcomes.


(5) The foundation of the EPA's decision-making is ecological sustainability through minimisation of environmental risk and remediation of environmental impact. In applying the polluter pays principle, the EPA makes best endeavours to ensure preventative or corrective actions required of polluters are reasonable and practical. This necessarily involves some appreciation of costs. The EPA works with polluters to identify cost-effective remedies and uses the regulatory tools at its disposal to facilitate implementation of those remedies, including audits and inspections, warnings, fines and court prosecutions.


(6) Silt raking has ceased in the Tamar River. A condition of the grant of authority to undertake silt raking within the Tamar River requires the Launceston Flood Authority to provide a review of data collected under the Sediment Raking Monitoring Plan to the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment prior to the expiry to the authority in September. The outcomes of that review will inform future actions in respect of silt management in the Tamar River.


Ms Armitage - So the raking has stopped because the review has not been completed? Is that my understanding? One would have thought the review would have been completed before the raking had stopped, so it could be continued. Is there another reason the raking has stopped?


Mrs HISCUTT - Silt raking has ceased in the Tamar River. A condition of the grant of authority to undertake silt raking within the Tamar River requires the Launceston Flood Authority to provide a review of data collected under the Sediment Raking Monitoring Plan to DPIPWE.


Ms Armitage - But they have they not provided it?


Mrs HISCUTT - Prior to the expiry of the authority in September. The outcomes of that review will inform future actions in respect to silt management.

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