Environmental overhaul

A major overhaul of the environmental watchdog has been credited to community expectations borne out of the Hazelwood mine fire.

Almost three years since the disaster that blanketed the town of Morwell in ash and smoke, the Environment Protection Authority Victoria has received $45 million from the State Government to boost its powers and independence.

The government has adopted 40 out of 48 recommendations made in the 10-month long independent inquiry into the EPA.

It followed criticism the organisation failed to adequately monitor air quality during the 2014 blaze.

EPA Gippsland regional manager Stephen Lansdell said more than $6 million would be spent on lawyers, environmental investigators and protection officers to monitor the state’s highest polluting industries.

“A lot of the sentiment in the government response is showing that the government listened and valued the community feedback through the inquiry from the Latrobe Valley community off the back of the Hazelwood mine fire,” Mr Lansdell said.

He said the recommendations particularly strengthened and formalised the EPA’s role in mining regulation.

One of the seven recommendations not enacted in full, but in principle, was that the EPA be given a stronger role in the enforcement and compliance of environmental conditions on mining licenses.

“The reforms are about strengthening our laws and our systems given the significant industry in the region,” Mr Lansdell said.

He said a large focus of the reform was an overhaul of the legislation to bring in more preventative controls, rather than waiting for something to go wrong.

“It’s about preventing issues, risk management controls and prosecuting where something goes wrong,” Mr Landsell said.

Environment Victoria chief executive Mark Wakeham said Victoria had changed significantly since the EPA was established in 1971 and was pleased the watchdog was modernising with growing environmental challenges.

“Everybody knows that prevention is better than a cure, and we welcome this reframing of the EPA’s work, which puts the onus on polluters to prevent harm,” Mr Wakeham said.