Assessing Environmental Impacts
Under the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act (EMPCA), development activities are classified according to three levels, depending on the environmental risk presented by the activity. The assessment process for each level varies, and is outlined below. An excellent resource is also available detailing the EIA process.
Level 1 Activities
Level 1 activities require a permit under LUPAA but generally pose a lower risk of environmental harm than Level 2 activities. Examples of Level 1 activities include some light industries, small water treatment plants and commercial premises.
The assessment of Level 1 activities, including the likely environmental impacts, is generally the responsibility of local councils (‘planning authorities’). Environmental controls are generally imposed through conditions on the planning permit issued for the activity (for example, limiting hours of operation or requiring ongoing monitoring of water quality).
Where the Director of the EPA thinks that the activity may cause environmental harm, he or she can require a planning authority to refer the development application to the EPA for assessment (this is called “calling in” a development). Calling in the development changes the status of the development to a Level 2 activity for assessment purposes.
Level 2 Activities
Level 2 activities are uses specifically identified in Schedule 2 of EMPCA on the basis that they are likely to pose a significant environmental risk without proper management. Level 2 activities include most large industrial activities, such as pulp and paper works, coal processing and sewerage treatment. Many Level 2 activities are classified according to capacity or output, so that developments only become Level 2 activities if they operate at a particular level. For example, mineral works becomes a Level 2 activity if it involves the processing of 1,000 tonnes or more per year of raw materials.
Level 2 activities must be referred to the Board of the EPA for an environmental impact assessment before a permit to operate can be issued. Following its assessment, the Board can require a planning authority to refuse a development application or specify conditions that must be included in the permit. DPIPWE is responsible for the ongoing regulation of Level 2 activities.
Level 3 Activities – Projects of State Significance
The government can declare a development proposal to be a Project of State Significance if it has at least two of the following attributes:
- significant capital investment;
significant contribution to the State’s economic development;
significant consequential economic impacts;
significant potential contribution to Australia’s balance of payments;
significant impact on the environment;
complex technical processes and engineering designs;
significant infrastructure requirements.
Examples of Projects of State Significance have included the Mt. Lyell Copper Mine at Queenstown and the Oceanport development in Hobart.
Projects of State Significance are assessed by the Tasmanian Planning Commission (TPC) under the State Policies and Projects Act 1993, rather than by local councils. The TPC undertakes an integrated assessment of level 3 activities, considering all environmental, social, economic and community issues relevant to the project. The developer prepares a draft Integrated Impact Statement (based on guidelines set by the TPC), which is available for public comment. The TPC then holds a public hearing to consider the IIS, before making recommendations to the government about the Level 3 activity.
The final decision regarding a Project of State Significance rests with the government. The Minister has no obligation to follow the advice of the TPC, however, where the Minister’s decision is contrary to the TPC’s recommendation, the order allowing the development to proceed must be passed by both Houses of Parliament. Once passed by parliament, the Governor is ultimately responsible for declaring that a Project of State Significance can proceed.
If approval is given for a Level 3 activity, the conditions will specify who is responsible for ongoing regulation of the activity.
The EIA process
Environmental impact assessment (EIA) aims to evaluate the likely impacts of a development on the surrounding environment. In particular, an EIA is used to establish the information base for decision-making regarding these impacts to determine whether the development should proceed and any conditions that should be imposed to minimize or control its impacts.
For level 2 activities, or ‘called-in’ Level 1 activities, the Board of the EPA will determine what level of assessment is required. Smaller projects may only be required to prepare an Environmental Effects Report (EER), while projects which are larger, located in sensitive areas or subject to a high level of public interest may be required to prepare a detailed Development Proposal and Environmental Management Plan (DPEMP). The EPA has set general guidelines for the content of a DPEMP and the Board may also set project specific guidelines that must be addressed.
If a proposed development is likely to affect a heritage site under the Historic Cultural Heritage Act 1995 or a threatened species under the Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 the developer must also fully investigate the likely impacts of the development upon these areas. If a developer or any person is in possession of or in charge of an aboriginal site under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1975 they must notify the Director.
The draft EER or DPEMP is assessed by the Board and released for public comment (between 14-42 days, depending on the level of assessment category). Any person may make a written submission regarding the proposal and associated impacts. The Board considers all public submissions when making its final assessment of the proposal. The Board may recommend to the planning authority that the development (with or without conditions) or can require the planning authority to reject the application. Any conditions recommended by the Board must be included in any permit issued for the project.