pollution

Many activities have impacts on the environment.  Some of these impacts are authorised by permits (where the council or government has decided that the impacts can be managed, or that the community benefits of the activity outweigh the risks associated with those impacts).  Other impacts occur without authorisation, resulting from accidents, negligence or deliberate breaches of the law.

In Tasmania, the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994 (EMPCA) is the central piece of legislation used to prevent, reduce, manage and, where necessary, undo harm to the environment. Click here for an explanation of some of the key terms used in the legislation.

There are a number of opportunities to have your say about polluting activities:

  • Comment on proposed changes to Environment Protection Policies
  • Make a representation about a proposed Level 2 activity
  • Report suspected pollution incidents to the local Council or the EPA
  • Request an investigation of a potentially contaminated site
  • Request an investigation by the Director of Public Health
  • Commence civil enforcement proceedings to prevent, stop or remedy environmental harm

Scroll down to read more about how to make the most of these opportunities.

Responding to government proposals

Legislative changes

For information about proposing or responding to legislative changes, click here.

Environment Protection Policies

Environment Protection Policies (EPPs) may be made under the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994 to provide guidance to State and local government regulators in relation to particular pollutants, industrial activities, air or water quality or management practices.

Public comments must be invited on any proposal to prepare a draft EPP, and the EPP Review Panel may hold hearings to allow interested members of the public to explain their views on the draft before preparing their final recommendations to the Minister.

To date, only two EPPs have been finalised: the Environment Protection Policy (Air Quality) 2004 and the Environment Protection Policy (Noise) 2009.  Those policies are not enforceable in their own right, but provide standards for government authorities assessing particular development proposals (and considering what conditions to impose) or allocating resources to compliance activities.

For more information about EPPs, click here.

National Environmental Protection Measures

National Environment Protection Measures (NEPMs) are statutory instruments that set out national standards for a variety of environmental issues, including:

  • Air Toxics
  • Ambient Air Quality
  • Assessment of Site Contamination
  • Diesel Vehicle Emissions
  • Movement of Controlled Waste between States and Territories
  • National Pollutant Inventory (NPI)
  • Used Packaging Materials

Like Environment Protection Policies, NEPMs are not generally directly enforced but are implemented through other policies and assessment documents (for example, guiding the way that investigations of potentially contaminated sites are conducted under EMPCA).  NEPMs are developed by the National Environment Protection Council, following public consultation.

Click here to find out about opportunities to comment on new or amended NEPMs.

Responding to applications for Level 2 activities

There are often opportunities for the members of the public to participate when a development is proposed, or when a permit or licence is required, that may result in pollution.  See “Planning and Development” for information about how to respond to development applications.

Developments that are Level 2 activities are referred to the Board of the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) for environmental impact assessment.

In some circumstances, Level 1 activities which may cause environmental harm can also be referred to the EPA and assessed as if they were Level 2 activities. The Director of the EPA may also ‘call in’ an activity for environmental impact assessment even where the activity does not require a permit. Click here to see the EPA policy guiding when proposals will be “called in”.

There are two types of impact assessments:

  • Environmental Effects Report (EER – this option is generally used for lower impact activities)
  • Development Proposal and Environmental Management Plan (DPEMP)

The EPA Board will determine the level of assessment required and prepare guidelines which the proponent must address when preparing the assessment documents.

In some cases, the EPA will seek public comments before finalising the guidelines, however this is not required by law.  Click here to see the standard Guidelines.

Once the EPA Board is satisfied that a DPEMP or EER contains all the information required by the guidelines, the Board will direct the local council (“planning authority”) to advertise the application (or, if no planning permit is required, will advertise the proposal itself) by:

  • Publishing a notice in the local newspaper (look for the EPA or Council logo in the Public Notices section)
  • Displaying a notice at the Council office
  • Placing a notice on the boundary of the development site (usually A4 signs with a red or bold border)
  • Sending a copy of the notice to all adjoining neighbours (“adjoining” does not include people living across the street – you must share a boundary with the development site)

The EPA will also advertise the application on its website, however this is not required by law.

Click here to see current applications being assessed by the EPA.

Any person can make a representation regarding an advertised development application.  Check the notice carefully to see:

  • when the representation is due (date and time).  The deadline will be between 14 – 42 days from the date of advertising, depending on how the development proposal is classified. Representations received after the deadline will not be valid, even if they are only 10 minutes late.

  Public holidays, and all dates between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day are not included in calculating the deadline.

  • who the representation must be sent to (check whether it is to be sent to the local council or the EPA)
  • how the representation can be made.  Unless the notice specifically says that email representations will be accepted (or includes an email address for sending representations), you should send a copy by post and allow extra time for it to arrive.

It is important to make a representation if you have concerns about a development proposal.  In general, only people who have made a representation can appeal against a decision to approve (or refuse) the application.  Check out the EPA’s submission guide or click here for general tips on writing a representation. 

To find out more about the assessment process for Level 2 activities, click here.

Monitoring and reporting

There are many offences under EMPCA which council and the government / local council should make sure are not being (or will not be) committed.  These include:

  • Causing an environmental nuisance
  • Causing material or serious environmental harm
  • Placing a pollutant where it might cause environmental harm
  • Exceeding noise limits set by the Environmental Management and Pollution Control (Miscellaneous Noise) Regulations 2004
  • Causing smoke emissions that do not comply with the restrictions in the Environmental Management and Pollution Control (Distributed Atmospheric Emissions) Regulations 2007
  • Failure to comply with the conditions of a permit or an Environment Protection Notice.

Council and EPA officers have wide-ranging powers to investigate pollution complaints, including entering properties, asking questions and taking samples.   If they are satisfied that pollution has occurred or there is a pollution risk they can do a number of things, ranging from informal requests to take action, issuing an infringement notice or requesting the company enter into an Environment Improvement Programme, to prosecution or issuing an Environment Protection Notice requiring action to be taken or imposing new conditions on the activity.

Local councils may also issue abatement notices under the Local Government Act 1993 if they are satisfied that a nuisance is being caused.  More information about these enforcement options is available here.

Reporting pollution

People who live or work near a place, or use that place for recreation, are often the first to notice if pollution is affecting the environment – you might notice that water in the creek is discoloured, that unusual amounts of litter are washing up on the beach or that a factory is emitting smoke for longer, or smoke that looks different or smells more acrid, than usual.  If you notice these changes, there are a number of things that you can do.

You can also take similar actions if you are concerned that pollution may occur, even where it has not happened yet.  You will need to clearly explain the pollution risk and why you believe that action is necessary to prevent future pollution.  For example, you may notice that a local business has started storing waste in an area that you know is easily flooded and have concerns about the waste ending up in the river after heavy rains.

Contact the person responsible

If you know the person or company that is causing (or may cause) the pollution, contact them directly to express your concern.  You should ask them to investigate and contact you to discuss their response.  In many cases, the pollution problem can be fixed by repairing leaks in pipes / stacks or making small changes to operating practice (such as altering the temperature of a boiler, starting deliveries half an hour later or relocating waste storage bins).

Wherever possible, you should make a note of any person that you speak to and follow up with a written confirmation of your request (email or post) to make sure that your complaint is recorded.  Click here to see a sample letter.

If the matter is ongoing and affecting you directly (for example, dust emissions from a neighbouring landscaping supply business are affecting your health), you may wish to request that the person or company responsible participate in mediation to try to reach a satisfactory resolution.  Click here to find out more about mediation.

Contact the relevant agency

If contacting the company doesn’t resolve the issue, or if you do not know who is responsible for the pollution, contact the relevant government agency (see list below).

Click here to read tips for reporting pollution.

 Local councils have a clear obligation under s.20A of the EMPCA to “use their best endeavours” to minimise and manage pollution in relation to Level 1 activities.  You should remind them of this duty when requesting an investigation.

For pollution incidents, it is a good idea to contact the relevant agency by phone and follow up with a written report (email or hard copy).  Click here to see a sample letter.

Who to contact

Issue Relevant law Who should you contact
Pollution
  • Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1999
  • For Level 1 activities, Environmental Health Officer at your local council
  • For Level 2 activities (or if you don’t know what is causing the pollution), the EPA pollution incidents and complaints hotline
Breach of planning permit conditions
  • Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993
  • EMPCA
  • For level 1 activities, planning officer at your local council
  • For level 2 activities, EPA
Litter
  • Litter Act 2007
Public health issues (eg water pollution, leakage of waste materials dust emissions)
  • Local Government Act 1993 (s.199)
  • Public Health Act 1997.
  • For minor issues, Environmental Health Officer at your local council
  • For more serious issues, Director of Public Health
Smoke emissions
  • Environmental Management and Pollution Control (Distributed Atmospheric Emissions) Regulations 2007
  • Local Council by-laws
  • Local council (check their website for details of the relevant officers)
  • If the emissions are from an industrial operation or planned burn, contact the EPA

Note:  the EPA has a smoke management programme aimed at reducing emissions from planned burns and domestic fireplaces.  Contact their incident response team to complain about burning incidents.

Discharge of oil, garbage and sewage from boats
  • Pollution of Waters by Oil & Noxious Substances Act 1987
Noise
  • Environmental Management and Pollution Control (Miscellaneous Noise) Regulations 2004
  • EMPCA
  • Where the noise creates a neighbourhood nuisance, contact the Police.
  • Where the noise involves a breach of permit conditions, contact the local council or the EPA (depending on the nature of the operation)
Contamination of land
  • Chapter 5A, EMPCA
Agricultural spraying
  • Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Control of Use) Act 1995
  • Primary Industries Activities Protection Act 1995

Note:  if the aerial spraying is conducted in accordance with a permit, it will not generally be considered a “nuisance” under EMPCA

Request an investigation of contaminated sites

The Contaminated Sites Unit in DPIPWE is responsible for identifying and regulating contaminated, and potentially contaminated sites, throughout Tasmania.  To find out whether a site is listed as contaminated, or under investigation, you can submit a Property Information Request (please note, this search currently costs $226.50).

Click here for a list of activities with the potential to cause contamination.  If you are aware of land that has previously been used for one of these activities and suspect that it may be contaminated, you can request that the Contaminated Sites Unit investigate.

Click here to download the form  for reporting a potentially contaminated site.

In general, if the Contaminated Sites Unit is satisfied that there is a risk of contamination on a site and the owner (or previous owner) of the site is known, a notice will be issued requiring that person to submit an assessment of the land.

For information about site assessment requirements, rehabilitation works and the process for Contaminated Sites “sign off” that land is no longer a risk, click here.

Request an investigation by the Director of Public Health

The Director of Public Health has powers to carry out investigations into matters affecting public health.   If an investigation is conducted, the Director may require any person to provide evidence or relevant documents and can take evidence on oath or affirmation.

For environmental health issues, the Director and the EPA may conduct a joint investigation.

There is no formal procedure to request an investigation.  You should write to the Director of Public Health and specifically request an investigation under s.24 of the Public Health Act 1997.  Your request should include as much information as possible to explain why an investigation is needed (click here for a sample letter).   You should also send a copy of your request to the Minister for Health.

 

Challenging decisions, enforcing the laws

Appeals

A number of decisions under EMPCA are subject to appeal to the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal.   These include:

  • Decision to approve an application for a Level 2 activity (or a “called-in” Level 1 activity)
  • Decision to issue an Environment Protection Notice
  • Decision to issue (or not to issue) a contaminated sites notice

For more information about the appeal process, go to “Challenging Decisions“.

Generally, only people who have made a valid representation are entitled to appeal against a decision.  That is why it is important to make a representation, however brief, if you have concerns about a proposal. 

Civil enforcement

Any member of the public with a proper interest in an activity can apply to the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal for orders requiring the responsible party to take action, or to refrain from taking action, in order to prevent, minimise or rehabilitate environmental harm.  These actions are called “civil enforcement”.

If the application is successful, the Tribunal can order a person to do any of the following:

  • refrain, either temporarily or permanently, from the unlawful action 
  • not carry out any use or development in relation to the land for a specified period
  • make good (that is, fix) the contravention
  • comply with any environmental agreement, environmental improvement programme, environment protection notice, investigation notice, remediation notice or site management notice
  • pay reasonable costs and expenses incurred by the Board, the Director or a public authority as a result of taking action to prevent or mitigate environmental harm
  • pay the reasonable costs and expenses incurred in the course of investigating the matter (including taking samples, gathering evidence and preparing submissions)
  • pay compensation for any injury, loss or damage resulting from the contravention (including efforts to mitigate the damage)
  • pay exemplary damages to the Environment Protection Fund.  That money will then be available for general environmental work undertaken by the EPA / DPIPWE. 

 For more information about civil enforcement under EMPCA, click here.

  Strict time limits exist for commencing civil enforcement actions relating to environmental harm – applications for orders must be made within 3 years of the alleged harm occurring.