THE authority of the state’s environmental watchdog has been ridiculed after slapping Yallourn power station’s owner with a $7584 fine for a major industrial spill in February.
On Tuesday the Environment Protection Authority announced it was fining EnergyAustralia for a breach of licence conditions, after 8.6 million litres of ash slurry was discharged into the Latrobe River in a February pipe rupture.
The EPA’s investigation found a “number of failures” which led to the spill, noting the incident could have been prevented if the company had followed incident management procedures properly.
“Fortunately, the impact of the spill material was diluted by river flows, minimising environmental impact and potential risk to human health,” EPA Gippsland manager Emily Sanders said.
“EPA takes it role as the environmental regulator seriously and this incident should serve as notice to all operators that appropriate action will be taken if breaches… are identified,” Ms Sanders said.
However, the meagre fine amount for the internationally-owned corporation has drawn widespread criticism from vocal community members, augmented by Environment Victoria, who described the fine for a foreign owned company as “demonstrably inadequate”.
“I think what this fine shows is just how much we need to modernise the powers EPA has to deal with situations like this,” safe climate campaign manager Dr Nicholas Aberle said.
EPA chief executive Nial Finegan said the fine was determined by legislation in an Environmental Protection Act that was 45 years old.
The relevant section of the act determined a fine of 50 penalty units, which as of 1 July 2015 equalled $151.67 per unit, as set annually by the Department of Treasury and Finance.
Mr Finegan pointed to a major public inquiry into the EPA, tasked with overhauling its role and powers to better protect the environment, “particularly in light of recent, new and emerging risks and issues”.
Meanwhile, Yallourn executive manager Mark Pearson said the power station implemented 14 “wide-ranging improvement measures” in response to the February incident.
“They include upgrades of alarms to automatically shut down the ash line pumps and alert site staff to ruptures, installation of CCTV cameras in high risk areas and a requirement for hydraulic testing of new pipework prior to commissioning,” Mr Pearson said.