16 October, 2013

One stop shop for Environmental Approvals

Environment Ministers sign a Draft MOU

The Queensland and Federal Governments have signed a Draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) giving the state more powers to conduct environmental assessments and approvals for major projects.

In March 2013, a senate committee (under the former Labor Government) confirmed the Federal Department of Environment was backing away from handing over responsibilities for biodiversity approvals to the States.

The Draft MOU (which has not been publically released) addresses ''the key principles of maintaining environmental standards, streamlining processes, the removal of duplication and the offer of federal staff to be embedded with the state if required''.

The Draft MOU is being review by Prime Minister Tony Abbott for approval and the changes will need to be passed through Federal Parliament and the Senate. The aim is to achieve a one-stop shop to reduce red tape and provide certainty to business while maintaining the rigorous federal environmental standards.

This would include:

·           Creation of a single approvals process for environmental assessment and approvals under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act via the state system, as part of long-term agreements with each state and territory.
·           Development of the ability and incentive for local government to be part of the one-stop-shop single assessment process.
·           Creation of a single lodgement and documentation process. The single documentation and assessment process could also be expanded to make a single entry point and one-stop-shop for all government approvals across portfolios.

State Environment Minister Andrew Powell says there will be less duplication and quicker decisions - but Commonwealth oversight will not disappear.

Some of the things proposed include embedding Commonwealth officers into the Qld Co-ordinator General's Department.

Approval Processes for Coal and Mineral Exploration

There have been recent changes to the approvals process for coal and mineral exploration allowing for earlier engagement and faster approvals.

Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Andrew Cripps said the new process had the potential to halve the time taken for companies to be granted exploration permits, while maintaining rigorous environmental, native title and land access assessments.

Mining companies no longer need to wait until an exploration permit is granted before engaging with landholders about their proposed exploration activities.

Exploration activities still cannot begin in an area prior to a permit being granted.

Applications to explore will still be subject to the same stringent assessment process to ensure they meet strict environmental, technical and commercial viability, community interest, native title and land access requirements.

A granted exploration permit is not a right to mine, and the Queensland Resources Council estimates that approximately only one in every 200 granted exploration permits ever goes on to become a mine.

Under the new process:
·       companies will now be formally advised within 90 days of lodgement whether their proposed exploration works program for a project has been approved or rejected.
·       For successful applications not subject to native title, once a work program has been approved and an environmental authority has been issued, a permit can be granted after annual rent has been paid.
·       For applications subject to native title, it means companies can start required native title processes and engage landholders about conduct and compensation arrangements a lot sooner.
·       These permit applications can then be finalised within 30 days of the native title process being concluded.

More information about exploration in Qld is available at www.dnrm.qld.gov.au or at www.mines.industry.qld.gov.au

Fees for Petroleum and Gas

In another example of the Qld Government’s approach to regulation and fees: The Qld Government will amend the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Regulation 2004.

Key changes include:
·       Replacement of the requirement for industry to report quarterly with a new annual reporting requirement
·       A capping mechanism for upstream operators to ensure revenue collected from some fee categories is not in excess of the calculated costs to conduct compliance activities
·       Amending the Category 10 fee to three-tiers and applied based on the size of the LPG delivery network. Small and medium sized operators will have a flat fee relative to their size and larger operators will remain at a fee per unit basis with a maximum charge retained
·       Abolition of the Category 9 fee category for the LPG delivery network
·       Removal of the fee for biogas users and exemptions for some biogas producers

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