EPA sets eyes on GDF SUEZ

HAZELWOOD mine owners GDF SUEZ could face legal action under State Government environmental law, for smoke and ash pollution created during the mine fire last year.

The Environment Protection Authority has confirmed it has finished the process of gathering evidence and is reviewing its investigation against the mine operator.

“We have advice about the possible offences and that the EPA should be taking legal action and we’ve already started on that journey,” EPA chief executive Nial Finegan said.

The investigation has been underway since September 2014, considering air pollution and environmental hazards caused by the fire and potential breaches of the Environment Protection Act.

Mr Finegan said the investigation was a priority, but evidence was being reviewed by legal counsel to ensure there were no holes and would then make a decision about legal options.

“We’ve commenced the process to bring it to court, but it’s a big process before that stage,” he said.

Environment Victoria has also obtained legal advice, prepared by solicitors at Environmental Justice Australia, who said legal action by the EPA was the only way the mine operator could be fined and could provide a way for affected residents to claim compensation.

The advice suggests Hazelwood committed at least two breaches of the Environment Protection Act – causing or permitting pollution and aggravated pollution.

Environment Victoria chief executive Mark Wakeham said if something as bad as the Hazelwood fire did not lead to prosecution, then serious questions needed to be asked about whether the EPA had the powers it needed and the community expected.

“EPA legal action is critical to ensure justice for those affected by the mine fire, including enabling individuals and businesses affected to pursue compensation,” he said.

GDF SUEZ spokesman Trevor Rowe said the case was speculation at this stage and did not know of any action.

“We are cooperating fully with all inquiry [Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry] processes, and saying anymore would be inappropriate,” Mr Rowe said.

It follows the CFA’s legal action against GDF SUEZ to recover $18 million incurred through the 45-day fire fighting effort.

Voices of the Valley president Wendy Farmer said it was good to know the EPA were looking at what pollution was put into the environment during the mine fire.

“Someone can be held accountable for the damage that has been done,” Mrs Farmer said.