Introduction to Environmental Law
The central resource for information on environmental law is the EDO Handbook, which comes out of the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO).
EDO also publishes a resource for litigants seeking to go the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal without legal representation called ‘Going It Alone: A Practical Guide for Unrepresented Litigants in the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal’. ‘Going It Alone’ can be purchased from the EDO. The Resource and Planning Stream of the Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal also publishes detailed Practice Directions on its website.
What is environmental law?
Environmental law refers to laws that are directed towards protecting natural and cultural resources, including laws relating to pollution, noise, land-use and development, cultural heritage, resource extraction, and threatened species protection.
The following chapter is a brief overview of environmental and planning legislation. For comprehensive information, we recommend the EDO handbook.
Federal environmental laws
Most environmental issues in Australia are dealt with at a State level. However, some environmental issues have been considered important enough to warrant a coordinated national approach. These issues are the subject of Commonwealth legislation and often relate to international treaties to which Australia is a party. Environmental issues dealt with in this way include whaling, pollution at sea, greenhouse gas emissions and management of the Australian territories in Antarctica.
The main piece of legislation in federal environmental laws is the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth). This Act deals with such issues as wetlands of international significance, World Heritage areas, places on the National Heritage List, migratory species, and threatened species. This Act is discussed in greater detail below.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is a Commonwealth Act and can impact on applications and activities within Tasmania. For comprehensive information see Chapter 15 of the EDO Handbook.
The EPBC Act applies where there are actions that may have a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance (including listed threatened and migratory species, wetlands of international significance, places on the National Heritage list, World Heritage areas or nuclear activities). These matters will be assessed by the Commonwealth Environment Minister, unless the actions have been exempted under the EPBC Act.
In deciding whether to permit or deny the action that is being assessed, the Minister will take into account:
- the impacts on each relevant matter of national environmental significance, or the Commonwealth environment;
- economic and social matters;
- the principles of ecologically sustainable development;
- the precautionary principle,
- any assessment report, PER or EIS or report of a public inquiry (including a summary of public comments);
- any comments given to the Minister by another Commonwealth Minister; and
- the proponent’s history in relation to environmental matters.
The public are able to make submissions regarding whether the Minister should approve or refuse to approve actions, however there are limited avenues to appeal against decisions.
Page last updated 01/12/2021