A weight off WA shoulders

Streamlined environmental approvals in WA's best interest. Louise Wallace writes.

Environmental approvals processes have been long-winded and laborious for as long as Western Australian (WA) miners care to remember.

From the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Mines & Petroleum (DMP), to the Department of Conservation & Environment and Department of Indigenous Affairs, WA mining companies are required to submit environmental assessments to a number of agencies before getting the thumbs-up for their mining projects.

A senior environmental specialist for a WA mining company, who wished to remain anonymous, told MINING DAILY that approvals processes in WA are time consuming, difficult, and often include unnecessary procedures before operations are allowed to go ahead.

“Mines are losing time and money by being trapped by red-tape and not being able to get on with their jobs,” the source said.

“Stringent guidelines and long-winded approvals processes restrict development and put WA at a disadvantage to other states.

“Currently, a submission is made to the EPA, which then seeks advice from a number of departments, many of which require separate documentation. The same information is often required in different formats for each department, which leads to further time restraints.

“There is definitely room for improvement.”

Following from the lead of other states, WA is attempting to streamline environmental approvals processes and slash red-tape with the release of the EPA Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Process Review.

The review aims to improve assessment and approval regimes and the accreditation of processes and people required for procedures.

The review will also examine adopting new approaches to boost consistency and focus on environmental outcomes rather than project design details.

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy Western Australia (CME) chief executive, Reg Howard-Smith, said the review will provide a mechanism to improve processes while maintaining high standards of environmental assessment within the State.

“A more strategic and risk-based approach will facilitate more streamlined processes while directing resources to areas of greatest environmental risk,” he said.

According to Howard-Smith, and claims the EIA Process Review is “critical to sustainable development in Western Australia”.

The CME is now working with the EPA and a number of industry groups to ensure the best outcome from the review.

An EPA spokesperson told MINING DAILY the Process Review is being incrementally implemented across the State, with a number of outcome-based conditions now “up-and-running”.

According to the spokesman, new processes are expected to be in full-swing within the next six months.

The review is also expected to include timelines for key steps to minimise delays and promote recommendations for improvement.

Under the current system, environmental processes often take more than a year, not including the time required to complete base-line work that is required for each assessment.

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