Changes are needed to environmental assessments at the planning and approvals stage of mines in Western Australia, Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) chairman Paul Vogel told MINING DAILY.
Vogel last week represented the EPA at an Australian Centre for Minerals Extension and Research (ACMER) life of mine planning conference in Perth that specifically focused on the planning and approvals process.
According to Vogel, the process needs to become easier and more streamlined for improvements to environmental regulations to be made.
“There needs to be streamlined assessment and approvals processes that don’t compromise environmental standards,” he said.
“There are enormous efficiencies to be made in the way we go about our business.”
One of the key ideas that came from the conference is that environmental decisions made in regards to mine planning need to be more delegated instead of going through the EPA, Vogel said.
“We have an understanding with the WA Department of Industry and Resources (DoIR) that says, ‘you make judgments in accordance with agreed criteria and processes about whether these things are significant or not. You make the decisions. Don’t refer them to the EPA,’” he said.
“Those memoranda of understanding have been refined and reviewed as part of the review process because we’ve got to have our decision making at the most appropriate level.”
According to Vogel, despite the fact that the Western Australian environmental footprint is relatively small when viewed in a global sense, action still needs to be taken to reduce it.
“People might say that WA’s footprint is small, and in some respects that’s true,” Vogel said.
“I think that’s a bit simplistic.”
In spite of the environmental footprint that it leaves, Vogel acknowledges that the Western Australian mining industry is of vital importance to the State’s economy.
“The mining industry in WA is obviously incredibly important to its prosperity,” he said.
According to Vogel, what is most important in the relationship between the EPA and the mining industry is creating a belief that prevention is better than cure when it comes to environmental problems.
“It’s important that there’s early engagement between those conducting impact assessment and environmental regulation in mining companies,” he said.
“That’s much better than late intervention, both from a point of view that issues are more readily identified if people undertake early and strategic planning, and you can get a lot more cost effective management if you avoid what have been in the past some significant legacy issues.”