Environmental impact assessment in Tasmania: a moving feast

Environmental assessment is becoming increasingly important in the development assessment regime in Tasmania. Environmental assessment is constantly evolving; it’s a moving feast. There have been some interesting developments in the last few months which are likely to impact on how future projects will be assessed in Tasmania.

A recent decision of the Full Court of the Federal Court has confirmed that the Federal Environment Minister is not required to consider cumulative impacts in project assessments, however the decision also potentially allows for the Tasmanian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to consider cumulative impacts under the State environmental assessment regime.

Do I need to consider ‘cumulative impacts’ as part of an Environmental Assessment?

On 26 June 2015, the Full Court of the Federal Court handed down its decision in Tarkine National Coalition v Minister for the Environment. The case involved an application brought by a conservation organisation against an approval for an iron ore mine at Riley Creek in North West Tasmania. This case has some important implications for what must be considered when assessing a project.

Project assessment has traditionally only required the evaluation of impacts of the project itself, however cumulative impact assessment requires the consideration of other projects and potentially other ‘proposed projects’.

As a result of this recent decision, it is now clear that the Federal Environment Minister is not required to consider ‘cumulative impacts’ when assessing controlled actions under theEnvironment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. However, the decision seems to imply that the EPA Board is allowed to have regard to cumulative impacts of some activities under the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994.

What should I do as a result of this decision?

It remains advisable for project managers to consider cumulative impacts for projects to enable safe passage past the EPA Board. The decision however undoubtedly adds a degree of uncertainty to the assessment process in Tasmania.

If you have any questions about this article, please contact Sarah Wilson or Anthony Spence on (03) 6235 5176.

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