Environment Minister Lisa Neville wants to clarify ‘if the EPA is our environmental protector or regulator or both’.The state’s environment watchdog will be overhauled to ensure that polluted industrial sites are safely cleaned up before they are converted into residential land.
Environment Minister Lisa Neville has ordered a public inquiry into the Environment Protection Authority to ensure it has the right powers and skills to meet the challenges of policing pollutants in a period of rapid urban development.
The inquiry, to be chaired by former Justice Department secretary Penny Armytage, was an election pledge.
The main focus will be to ensure that the agency is capable of meeting the public’s needs. Legislation regulating the agency is 45 years old and the government wants to learn if there are new polices available to avoid major land contamination in the future.
Alcoa’s Point Henry Smelter, which closed last year, is just one of many potentially contaminated sites the agency will need to police in the near future, alongside the factories and plants left behind as Ford, Holden and Toyota wind down their Victorian operations.
Many of the factories were built before strong environmental controls were established.
And with Victoria’s population expected to double by 2050, there will be continued demand for high density urban development, much of it on former industrial land.
“Increases in resource consumption, traffic and waste volumes will follow. Demand for housing and urban density will continue bringing communities into closer proximity with potentially contaminated land, industrial areas and with each other,” Ms Neville said.
“We need to better protect Victorians from exposure to chemicals and pollution than we unfortunately sometimes have in the past.”
Since coming to office, Ms Neville has been critical of the EPA’s performance, including the agency’s failure to tell locals about an ash slurry leak into waterways near Yallourn Power Station.
In April she also said the EPA’s failure in 2014 to let the public know about a Geelong refinery chemical spill into Corio Bay was “not good enough”.
Ms Neville also wants quicker and more up-to-date information for the community about spills, leaks and air quality.
Labor expects evidence before separate inquiries into the CFA training centre at Fiskville and the Hazelwood Mine Fire to inform future policy for the EPA.
The inquiry has been asked to make sure the agency has the resources and skills to respond to the public concerns about contaminated sites, water quality, air pollution and exposure to asbestos.
Ms Neville said the inquiry would ask “if the EPA is our environmental protector or regulator or both”.
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