Victoria’s new environment protection laws explained

Aerial view of construction site.
Photo by Shane McLendon on Unsplash

On 1 July 2021, the Environment Protection Act 2017 came into effect, enforcing new environmental protection laws in Victoria. Roads & Infrastructure looks at what the new regulations mean for the construction industry, in consultation with the Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA).

“The new Environment Protection Act gives EPA greater ability to protect our environment and community,” EPA Chief Executive Officer Lee Miezis told Roads & Infrastructure.

“The roads and infrastructure industries, like everyone, have a role to play in protecting our environment and the general environment duties provisions in the Act means we all have to takes steps to reduce the risk of pollution or call out actions that might create pollution.”

The laws feature new responsibilities for all Victorians, including individuals and businesses. Below is a list of questions related to the construction sector, with responses from EPA Victoria.

Q: Do the new environmental laws make any changes in the duties of excavation companies with regards to land they work on?

A: Yes, the General Environmental Duty applies to all Victorians engaging in an activity that may give rise to risks of harm to human health or the environment, and requires them to minimise those risks so far as reasonably practicable. There are also new duties relating to contaminated land requiring persons in management or control of contaminated land to minimise risks of harm to human health and the environment from the contaminated land so far as reasonably practicable, as well as a duty to notify EPA of notifiable contamination. New duties relating to the management of industrial waste will also apply to all people along the waste management chain, including waste generators, transporters and receivers, and require all industrial waste to be deposited at, transported to and received at a premises that is authorised to receive industrial waste. These duties apply to all Victorians, including excavation companies, geotechnical specialists and builders and project owners.

Q: Do the new environmental laws affect responsibilities of geotechnical specialists as they conduct soil sampling and testing?

A: Yes, as outlined above the General Environmental Duty, duties relating to contaminated land and duties relating to the management of industrial waste will apply. For the purposes of classifying industrial waste that is soil, EPA Publication https://www.epa.vic.gov.au/about-epa/publications/1828-2 sets the required limits for chemical substances in fill material as soil, as well as thresholds for assigning a category of priority waste for disposal. There is an obligation to understand if the soil is likely to be contaminated and to identify which contaminants require analysis. An assessment must be undertaken for all chemical substances known and reasonably expected to be in the waste when dealing with soil sourced from contaminated land reg 68 (Environment Protection Regulations 2021). This means not all contaminants listed in this publication need to be analysed in every waste, unless they are known or reasonably expected to be present. Duty holders are expected to continue to conduct soil sampling in line with EPA publication https://www.epa.vic.gov.au/about-epa/publications/iwrg702.

Q: Do the new environmental laws affect responsibilities of trenching and boring contractors with regards to soil testing?

A: Yes, as outlined above the General Environmental Duty, duties relating to contaminated land and duties relating to the management of industrial waste will apply. For the purposes of classifying industrial waste that is soil, EPA Publication https://www.epa.vic.gov.au/about-epa/publications/1828-2 sets the required limits for chemical substances in fill material as soil, as well as thresholds for assigning a category of priority waste for disposal. There is an obligation to understand if the soil is likely to be contaminated and to identify which contaminants require analysis. An assessment must be undertaken for all chemical substances known and reasonably expected to be in the waste when dealing with soil sourced from contaminated land reg 68 (Environment Protection Regulations 2021). This means not all contaminants listed in this publication need to be analysed in every waste, unless they are known or reasonably expected to be present. Duty holders are expected to continue to conduct soil sampling in line with EPA publication https://www.epa.vic.gov.au/about-epa/publications/iwrg702.

Q: Do the new environmental laws affect responsibilities of builders and project owners with regards to managing water and soil pollution from their building?

A: Yes, as outlined above the General Environmental Duty, duties relating to contaminated land and duties relating to the management of industrial waste will apply. Builders and project owners will be required to manage water and soil pollution from their building in line with these duties, and where a pollution incident occurs they will have a duty to respond to harm cause by the pollution incident, and possibly notify EPA. Where a pollution incident occurs as a result of an activity and the pollution incident causes or is likely to cause harm to human health or the environment, the person engaging in the activity must, so far as reasonably practicable, restore the affected area to the state it was in before the pollution incident occurred. Where a pollution incident causes or threatens to cause material harm to human health or the environment, the pollution incident will be a ‘notifiable incident’ (unless exempt) and the person engaging in the activity must notify EPA of the notifiable incident as soon as practicable after the person becomes aware or reasonably should have been aware of the notifiable incident.

For more information on reporting pollution incidents, please see EPA’s website at https://www.epa.vic.gov.au/for-business/new-laws-and-your-business/reporting-a-pollution-incident.


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