Savage River pollution: An earlier spill from Grange Resources into Savage River, March 2013: here

The following insight focuses on the failings of the NSW EPA, as exposed by the Labor opposition environment spokesperson.

Here in Tasmania we have an EPA, that in our view, is politicized and routinely abrogates its responsibility for environmental matters.

It is highlighted by its current Director, Alex Schaap’s refusal to provide information through a request under RTI on the Grange Resources Savage River tailings dam spill last March, and the very deficient EPA Rosebery investigation, and the failure of the EPA to penalise the big polluters for breaches of licence conditions or repeated exceedances, and Mr Schaap’s questionable determination on the ‘substantial commencement’ of the Gunns Tamar Valley pulp mill.

The latest uncontrolled spill at MMG Rosebery mine last Friday saw the EPA pump out yet another Media Release in defense of industry:

Media Statement
Friday 4 April 2014
Statement from EPA Director Alex Schaap.

“The operators of the Rosebery mine have today advised me of the unintentional release of mine water into Rosebery Creek.

The release occurred because of multiple pump failures early this morning which caused mine water to overflow and enter the creek. The discharge has now been stopped.

Company monitoring of the mine water entering the creek indicates that it does contain traces of zinc and other metals. The reported levels are not substantially greater than the levels of those metals normally found in the creek. The creek is unfortunately already degraded by historic pollution impacts. The mine water discharge was also quite turbid with suspended muddy sediments but that has now cleared.

The release does not impact on drinking water supplies as it is well downstream of drinking water intakes. Both the creek and the region of Lake Pieman into which it flows are being monitored to determine if any environmental impacts are evident.”

What relevent ‘facts’ does this statement from Alex Schaap provide to the public?

Most recently, the EPA claims that it is not their responsibility to find [i]the source[/i] of the lead contamination of numerous drinking water supplies in north-east towns ( TT: Lead! Who is going to take responsibility for this? ) yet no other agency is putting their hand up for this critically important investigation.

More importantly, Alex Schaap has remained silent about the crisis within the EPA over lack of resources, funding and staffing and the lack of independence of the EPA under the current regime – that they ‘must be a friend to industry’. As a truly independent public servant, an EPA director must speak out to defend the integrity and independence of that agency.

This is of particular importance now with change to a majority Liberal governmemt; a political party that was largely supported by the mining industry and developers, against so-called red and green tape.

Yet what the Tasmanian [b]EPA[/b] is notorious for is a lack of independence from industry and [b]giving the [i]green light[/i] to developments[/b].

The Tasmanian Greens alienated many of their support base by joining forces with Labor and, by association, effectively condoning the EPA’s abysmal performance over the period 2010 to 2014. Appeasement and a failure to hold critical agencies like to EPA to account should never be acceptable, in our view.

Perhaps the Tasmanian Greens can make their way back from the political wilderness by getting behind those communities currently being shafted by the so-called Environment Protection Authority, and its partners in cavalier dereliction of duty, the DHHS and TasWater.

Just recently the NSW Opposition called for an inquiry into the management of their EPA

Lexi Metherell reported this story on Monday 31 March 2014 on the ABC’s The World Today program:

ELEANOR HALL: The head of the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority rejects allegations that the EPA is kowtowing to industry, amid claims the organisation has failed in its role as an environmental watchdog. The State Opposition has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the authority, saying its leadership is more concerned about protecting polluters than about the population’s health.



Lexi Metherell has our report.



LEXI METHERELL: An environmental regulator that puts business before people’s health: that’s the claim the NSW Labor Opposition is levelling at the state’s Environmental Protection Authority. The Opposition’s environment spokesman is Luke Foley.

LUKE FOLEY: On too many occasions now, the senior figures in the NSW EPA have acted perhaps as apologists for polluting industry, rather than as robust defenders of the community interest.



LEXI METHERELL: Luke Foley is now calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the EPA. 

It’s not the EPA’s legislative framework or funding that he’s concerned about but the regulator’s management.



LUKE FOLEY: The EPA has been too weak when it’s come to regulating industry and of particular concern is that on more than one occasion the full facts have been deliberately withheld from the public.



LEXI METHERELL: The Opposition’s call has been sparked by revelations about an independent assessment of the EPA’s controversial handling of contamination around chemical company Orica’s Botany site in Sydney’s east last year. The assessment found the EPA had done nothing wrong.

 But Fairfax has uncovered documents showing the author of the assessment had discussed the draft of the report with EPA staff and made changes on their recommendations.

 Luke Foley says the EPA leant on the author of the report, Professor Chris Fell, who’s an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales.

 Professor Fell denies that.



CHRIS FELL: Oh, look, that’s totally untrue.



LEXI METHERELL: You did have some conversations, though, with the EPA about how that report eventually came out, didn’t you? You submitted your draft to them?



CHRIS FELL: Yes, I did. As a normal courtesy, when I do a consulting job, that’s how I handle things, so anything obviously wrong can be talked out. They in no way suggested changes of substance. They did pick up a couple of typographical errors.

LEXI METHERELL: The EPA’s chief executive Barry Buffier is concerned about the way the media’s reported the EPA’s handling of incidents, including the Botany contamination. 

He spoke to Linda Mottram on ABC Local Radio in Sydney.



BARRY BUFFIER: We actually feel that we’ve had some difficulty getting our story across and getting all the facts on the table, despite the fact that we’ve tried to put them all on the table.



LINDA MOTTRAM: And so you would welcome a parliamentary inquiry?



BARRY BUFFIER: Absolutely. An opportunity to put all of this in the public arena without it being filtered through the media, as it has been to date, and without people putting their individual perspectives on it and their agendas on it, I’d welcome that.



LEXI METHERELL: The Opposition’s Luke Foley says there are other matters of concern too. He points to the EPA’s handling of a spill from a coal seam gas project into an aquifer in Narrabri in the state’s west, as well as its failed $500,000 prosecution of a multinational company over environmental destruction of vegetation in Girraween in Sydney.

 He’s also concerned about the handling of pollution from coal trains in the Hunter Valley.

 Dr James Whelan from the Hunter Community Environment Centre has been lobbying for coal trains in the Hunter to be covered. He’s deeply unhappy with the EPA’s performance.



JAMES WHELAN: We discovered, for instance, that Mr Buffier prepared a media statement denying the coal trains are any source of pollution before he actually received the monitoring report into coal train pollution. That’s just not on. It’s not on for a regulator to decide what they’re going to pronounce and decide on their policy response before the science comes in. We think we’re overdue for some kind of investigation.



LEXI METHERELL: The NSW Environment Minister, Robyn Parker, was unavailable for interview but in a statement says Labor’s claims are not based in fact. She says the independent scientific analyses the Government has commissioned of the EPA’s operations have aligned with the initial advice the EPA has provided to the community.



ELEANOR HALL: Lexi Metherell reporting.

EARLIER ON TASMANIAN TIMES:

Grange Resources investigates tailings dam spill

Right To Information denied on Savage River mine tailings dam spill

THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE ON GRANGE SPILL:

B Hart & P Sugden: Alex Schaap was incorrect

Water: Pioneer Residents to Seek Legal Advice