Meeting environmental obligations and duties
The Environmental Protection Act 1994 lists obligations and duties to prevent environmental harm, nuisances and contamination. The Environmental Protection Act 1994 also sets out enforcement tools that can be used when offences or acts of non-compliance are identified.
The two primary duties that apply to everyone in Queensland are:
- General environmental duty – which means a person must not carry out any activity that causes or is likely to cause environmental harm, unless measures to prevent or minimise the harm have been taken; and
- Duty to notify of environmental harm – to inform the administering authority and landowner or occupier when an incident has occurred that may have caused or threatens serious or material environmental harm.
What is general environmental duty
The Environmental Protection Act 1994 (the Act) states that we all have a general environmental duty. This means that we are all responsible for the actions we take that affect the environment.
We must not carry out any activity that causes or is likely to cause environmental harm unless we take all reasonable and practicable measures to prevent or minimise the harm.
For example, we must not burn rubbish in our backyards (unless permitted by local government), pour oil and other wastes down the stormwater drain or cause unreasonable noise.
To decide how to meet your general environmental duty, you need to think about the:
- nature of the harm or potential harm – for example, how severe is the potential environmental harm?
- sensitivity of the environment you are operating in – for example, are you operating near a protected area, waterway or sensitive habitat?
- current state of technical knowledge for the activity – for example, what is the current best practice for the activity?
- likelihood of possible measures being successful – for example, how successful are different measures likely to be in preventing or minimising environmental harm?
- financial implications of taking different measures – for example, will taking certain prevention measures instead of others mean your activity is not commercially viable?
There is no specific offence for failing to fulfil your general environmental duty, however if you cause environmental harm, and fail in your general environmental duty, there are enforcement tools that may be used to bring you into compliance with the Act. These enforcement tools, outlined further in the Compliance Guidelines, include issuing an environmental protection order or issuing direction and clean-up notices.
Demonstrating compliance with general environmental duty can be used as a defence for offences relating to causing unlawful environmental harm. If a person can show that the harm occurred while an activity considered lawful, apart from this Act, was being carried out and they fulfilled their general environmental duty, then they cannot be found guilty of causing unlawful environmental harm.
Duty to notify of environmental incidents
The duty to notify of environmental harm is a legal requirement that ensures that the administering authority and other relevant persons are made aware of incidents that may have caused or threaten serious or material environmental harm.
The Duty to Notify of Environmental Harm Guideline provides details of:
- who the duty to notify applies to;
- when the duty to notify applies;
- the timeframe for notifying;
- who is to be notified; and
- how to notify of environmental incidents.
In addition to the duty to notify the administering authority of incidents that cause or threaten serious or material environmental harm, there is a specific duty to notify for anyone carrying out a resource activity other than mining (i.e. a geothermal activity, a greenhouse gas storage activity or a petroleum activity licensed by an environmental authority) where the activity:
- causes or threatens a negative impact on the water quality of an aquifer; or
- causes the connection of two or more aquifers.
Notification of an incident
Notification to the administering authority must occur within 24 hours of the person responsible for notifying becoming aware of an incident that may have caused or threatens serious or material environmental harm.
Written Notice to the department (as the administering authority)
The Duty to Notify of Environmental Harm form should be used for providing written notice to the department when a person becomes aware of an incident that may have caused or threatens serious or material environmental harm.
If written notice is required to be given to the occupiers or registered owners of affected land, the person responsible for giving that written notice can use this form as a guide for what information to give.
Phoning the department’s Pollution Hotline
In addition to providing the written notice, if a person becomes aware of an event which has caused or threatens serious or material environmental harm, the person should immediately call the Pollution Hotline on 1300 130 372 and report the event. Reporting the event through the Pollution Hotline allows the department to take necessary measures to prevent further harm and to mitigate the effects of an incident or event.
In addition to notifying the department, it is considered best practice to notify the council for your local government area.
Queensland legislation is available online.