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WA introduces bill to validate EPA decisions

LNG Industry,

The government of Western Australia has introduced legislation to validate environmental approvals, following a review of the Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) conflict of interest procedures.

Environment Minister Albert Jacob said the legislation would provide certainty for projects that related to EPA decisions between 2002-12 that had been identified as being at potential risk of being found to be invalid.

Browse LNG decision

This followed an August 2013 Supreme Court decision on the Browse LNG Precinct.

“The court’s decision found that the environmental approval issued for the precinct was invalid, due to the EPA failing to comply with the requirements of the Environmental Protection Act, relating to conflicts of interest and quorum procedures,” Jacob explained.

“Following the court’s decision, I asked the State Solicitors Office to conduct a review of the validity of other environmental approvals. After considering the legal advice contained in that review, the government has identified 25 projects where there was a potential risk that state environmental approvals could be determined to be invalid.

“This doesn’t mean the projects pose risks to the environment, and there is nothing to indicate that the EPA did anything other than assess the environmental factors relating to proposals on their merits.

Potential risks

“Rather, these potential risks stem from technical governance issues relating to the EPA’s conflict of interest procedures, with conflicted board members being allowed to participate in discussion evaluating projects in which they had declared an interest.

“In some cases, this conflict was due to a member holding shares in a company with an interest in the project being evaluated.”

The Minister said the state government was taking immediate action to address this risk via validating legislation.

Reassessment needed

“This is an unfortunate necessity that will provide certainty to projects and ensure confidence in doing business in Western Australia. The legislation will not validate the Browse LNG Precinct proposal which is currently being reassessed by an independent panel.

“I want to reassure project proponents and the WA public that there has been no suggestion that any member of the EPA board was in fact influenced by any shareholding or other pecuniary interest they may have had in the outcome of the assessment.

‘Error of judgement’

“This failure of governance was an error of judgement made by the EPA chairman and board members at the time and this is disappointing.

“Following the Browse decision, I asked the EPA chairman to review its governance arrangements and have been satisfied that arrangements, including Code of Conduct and Procedures, now fully comply with legislation and public sector standards.”

Adapted from statement by Katie Woodward

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