In order to overhaul the environmental regulatory system in the Northern Territory, the NT Parliament passed the Environment Protection Act 2019 (EP Act) on 19 September 2019 and it received assent on 9 October 2019. The EP Act has not yet commenced and will do so on the day fixed by the Administrator by Gazette notice, which is understood will occur in the coming months.
In preparation for its commencement, the NT Environment Protection Authority (NT EPA) has released the following draft guidance documents for consultation:
Environmental factors and objectives
Under the EP Act, the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources may declare environmental objectives on the Minister's own initiative or as recommended by the NT EPA. Whilst the Minister has not yet declared any environmental objectives for the EP Act, the Environmental impact assessment guidance - the NT EPA's Environmental factors and objectives introduces the NT EPA’s environmental factors and objectives which it proposes to use when conducting environmental impact assessments for those proposed actions that have the potential to have a significant impact on the environment.
In this guidance document, the NT EPA has identified the following 14 environmental factors which are categorised under five themes and the corresponding objectives for each which reflect the expected outcomes for these parts of the environment:
- Land - Landforms, Terrestrial environmental quality and Terrestrial ecosystems;
- Water - Hydrological processes, Inland water environmental quality and Aquatic ecosystems;
- Sea - Coastal processes, Marine environmental quality and Marine ecosystems;
- Air - Air quality and Atmospheric processes; and
- People - Society and economy, Culture and heritage and Human health.
The objectives for the environmental factors will be used to assess whether the objects of the EP Act can be achieved, whether the environmental impact of a proposed action may be significant and ultimately whether a proposed action is likely to be acceptable.
Referring a proposal
Under the EP Act proposed actions and strategic proposals that have the potential to have a significant impact on the environment and meet a referral trigger (ie an activity-based referral trigger or a location-based referral trigger declared by the Minister) will need to be referred to the NT EPA for its determination of:
- whether the proposed action or strategic proposal has the potential to have a significant impact on the environment; and
- if so - the method of environmental impact assessment appropriate for the referred action or strategic proposal in accordance with the Environment Protection Regulations 2020 (yet to be released in final).
The Environmental impact assessment guidance for proponents - referring a proposal to the NT EPA provides guidance to proponents, statutory decision makers and the community about:
- when a referral to the NT EPA is likely to be required for a proposed action or strategic proposal;
- the information that must be included when referring a proposed action or strategic proposal to ensure that the NT EPA can determine whether the action has the potential to have a significant impact on the environment and if so the appropriate method of assessment; and
- the accepted methods of submitting a referral to the NT EPA.
It is understood that the NT EPA will be releasing additional guidance documents for comment over the coming weeks.
Submissions can be made on the two guidelines until 17 April 2020 in the manner prescribed on the NT EPA's website.