Mining sector calls for balanced environmental reforms ahead of Earth Day

Ahead of Earth Day (22 April 2024), the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) says the government changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act must strike the right balance to support growth. 

In an announcement released yesterday (16 April 2024), the MCA says the proposed changes to the legislation need to achieve the right balance between the outcomes for the environment and supporting economic growth, investment, and job creation. 

The MCA says the EPBC reforms should focus on competitive advantages rather than imposing regressive policies.  

“What we want to achieve is that balance between making sure the environment is protected, but that mining activity still occurs and that we can reduce the impact and offset that impact,” CEO Tania Constable says in a recent interview with Mining.com.au.

“The legislation is about looking at nationally, environmentally significant areas, not impacting highly endangered species, and then acting appropriately in the management of these environmental issues,” Constable says.

Less than a week ago the Prime Minster announced his major vision for a ‘Future Made in Australia’.

The EPBC Act is designed to protect the environment, conserve biodiversity, protect and manage natural and cultural resources, assess the impact of projects, promote indigenous knowledge, and covers many more environmentally related issues.

The federal government announced its plan to progress stage two of its Nature Positive law reforms, which includes establishing ‘Environment Protection Australia’ (EPA) and ‘Environment Information Australia’, as well as investing nearly $100 million in environmental approvals. 

The EPA is responsible for issuing permits and licences, project assessment, decisions, and post-approvals, compliance and enforcement.

Meanwhile, the role of Environment Information Australia will be to provide government and public authoritative data and information about the environment, develop an online database for quick access, publish state of environment reporting, and report on progress towards environmental outcomes. 

Despite this, organisations such as the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) have expressed frustration that the government has “failed to deliver the full reform of the national environmental laws”.

In 2021, some 144 animals, plants, and ecological communities were added to the threatened species list, according to the ACF. This is equivalent to three species a week and hundreds of thousands of hectares of land destroyed. 

“We are in the midst of an extinction crisis and our national nature law is in need of urgent, comprehensive reform,” ACF CEO Kelly O’Shanassay says.

O’Shanassay says although the EPA is necessary, without a comprehensive reform the EPA enforces an improper law.

The MCA argues that the government must ensure that economic and social impacts of projects are also considered in project and development approvals. 

According to the council, Australia has one of the most extensive environmental approval processes and the MCA has been vocal about the risks duplicative, complex, and uncertain approvals processes pose to the minerals sector, economy, and environment. 

“Reform of this legislation is a significant undertaking and time is needed to robustly test and get the settings right without unintended consequences,” the council says. 

The government began rolling consultations on the law reforms in October 2023 and is continuing to consult closely with stakeholders and the public on further updates to national environmental laws. 

As part of the third stage of the reforms, a comprehensive exposure draft of the new laws will be released before its introduction to Parliament. 

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (AMEC) says it is pleased to see yesterday’s announcement from the federal environment minister to break-up the Nature Positive reforms into further stages. 

However, AMEC says questions still remain around the detail of this announcement and more in-depth consultation will be required to understand the impact on the mining and exploration industry. 

AMEC Chief Executive Officer Warren Pearce says it’s pleasing to see that the majority of environmental reforms will now get the public consultation process they deserve. 

“This will enable industry to properly engage in the process and understand the potential benefits or consequences of these changes. We are waiting for more detail on how the public consultation will work, timeframes and how industry will be involved,” he says.

Pearce adds this is a move forward from the secrecy and closed-door meetings well documented to date.

As Earth Day approaches next week, the resources sector is ensuring minerals are responsibly sourced, which is considered essential for a nature-positive future for the planet. 

Write to Aaliyah Rogan at Mining.com.au   

Images: Minerals Council of Australia 
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Written By Aaliyah Rogan
Relocated from the East Coast in New Zealand to Queensland Australia, Aaliyah is a fervent journalist who has a passion for storytelling. When Aaliyah isn’t writing stories, she is either spending time with friends and family or down at the beach.