Our regulatory approach

graphic showing the elements of our regulatory approach - Listen, educate, enable, act, enforce, monitor, require, influence which lead to improved outcomes for the environment and human health

Throughout 2020–21, the EPA crafted its first Regulatory Strategy , launching it in July 2021. The new strategy document will improve our regulatory approach and is a vital part of our commitment to becoming a world class regulator.

The strategy is underpinned by our establishing legislation (the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991) . It outlines our purpose and guiding principles for improving the environment and human health, and sets out what can be expected from us, why we regulate and how we do it.

We are committed to continual improvement of our regulatory approach.

We will make changes to improve our services and regulatory processes over time.

We will plan, carry out and then measure the success or otherwise of a change to ensure that it results in a better outcome.

We influence people, businesses, government, research and science to make changes for better environmental and human health outcomes. We encourage change and innovation through partnerships and collaboration. We provide incentives for people and businesses to protect, restore and enhance the environment.
We require compliance with obligations – under legislation, regulatory instruments, licences, duties, mandatory training and accreditation.
We monitor the state of the environment and monitor compliance against legal obligations. We investigate environmental issues and non-compliance.
We use our powers to compel people and businesses to achieve compliance with their legal obligations when needed.
We listen and actively engage with people to understand the issues affecting them and their ideas for addressing the issues.
We educate community, industry and government about environmental and human health issues. We empower the decision making of others to take environmental outcomes into account in their businesses and practices. We provide guidance about how people or industry can meet or exceed their legal obligations.
We enable the people of NSW – we inform the community about what we do and how we do it. We assist individuals, businesses, co-regulators and we partner with industry and government to protect, restore and enhance the environment.
We act to investigate and solve problems by engaging with the community, partnering with research organisations, industry and government, using our investigation powers, developing policy and programs, using science and research and undertaking regulatory reform.


Our new regulatory approach in action: remediating Kendall Bay

aerial view of Kendall Bay

Jemena’s Kendall Bay, Sediment Remediation Project. Photo: Ventia

The EPA regulated the remediation of Kendall Bay, a bay of the Parramatta River between the Sydney suburbs of Cabarita and Breakfast Point. The bay was contaminated by the former Mortlake Gasworks at Breakfast Point. After the gasworks site was remediated, the EPA turned its attention to sediments in the bay.

The EPA required the polluter, Jemena Limited (Jemena), to assess both short-term and ongoing toxicity of the sediments through extensive baseline measurements. The EPA also influenced the setting up of site-specific remediation criteria, a process carried out by CSIRO and paid for by Jemena.

The local community called for remediation that:

  • did not involve any access or treatment within Cabarita Park (which lies on the eastern side of the bay)
  • ensured the preservation of mangroves and sandstone seawalls around the foreshore.

The EPA and Jemena listened. The result was ‘bespoke’ remediation of these areas that included excavating (by hand) coke and coal from the upper layer of sand and placing clean sand cover in mangrove areas. This satisfied the residents’ requests and also improved the beach wading areas.

The EPA negotiated the performance criteria. Through bench and field trials, Jemena was able to show that stabilising contaminated sediments had reduced leachate by the required 90%. An accredited site auditor has reviewed the remediation work, as required by the EPA, and confirmed that it has been successful.

Kendall Bay’s existing depth will be preserved, and in-river sheet pile walls and ongoing monitoring will protect the surrounding waters.

Understanding external factors that affect regulatory activities

The EPA aims to identify changing conditions and emerging issues early and then develop effective regulatory responses as quickly as possible. We examine social and economic trends, opportunities and challenges.

Economic factors – local, national and global – affect the NSW environment by influencing the:

  • demand for natural resources
  • amount of waste and emissions generated.

Changes in economic activity may alter the environmental performance of households and businesses. The EPA needs to be aware of these changes so we can work more effectively with business and the community to manage emerging environmental issues.

Economic growth

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rate at which NSW reopens are likely to dominate economic performance over the next few years.

Measures taken in 2020 and 2021 to suppress the spread of the virus have had a significant impact on the NSW economy (which had already been affected by bushfires and drought in the last few years). While Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 0.3% in 2020, NSW’s gross state product (GSP) fell by 0.7%1 over the same period. This fall in activity led to an overall improvement in environmental outcomes, most notably in greenhouse gas emissions, air quality and waste production.

Economic recovery opportunities and impacts

The NSW Government will continue to invest in infrastructure to stimulate economic activity and has a record $107.2 billion of public works in the pipeline. Investment in infrastructure creates demand for raw materials (sand, rocks, timber and steel), generates industrial waste, and may require land clearing for ‘greenfield’ developments. Nevertheless, growth-related pressures will be limited in 2021 because GSP is expected to be -0.5%.

Economic growth will recover in 2022, when GSP is expected to be 2.75%2.

Overall, the outlook for NSW exports (both goods and services) is positive. Growth in beef production and exports, however, will remain subdued while herds are being rebuilt in the wake of the drought. Pressure for land clearing may be low until NSW’s cattle numbers are rebuilt but it will increase if exporters can establish alternative markets and beef prices are strong. Falling global demand for coal may translate into falling demand for NSW coal exports and so reduce land clearing and other environmental impacts related to coal mining.

Workforce trends

Employment in NSW rebounded when COVID-19 lockdowns ended in the second half of 2020. Despite this, the NSW unemployment rate rose to 6.5% in June 2021. It is expected to fall to 6% in 20222.

After the lockdowns ended, many organisations (including the EPA), adopted flexible working arrangements, which meant fewer staff in the EPA offices at any one time. If these practices continue, demand for office space may fall in the medium term, reducing private investment in construction and hence industrial waste from ‘brownfield’ development.


International and domestic border closures to stop the spread of COVID-19 cut Australian air travel by about 90%. Domestic travel only partly recovered between October 2020, when most state and territory borders were open, and July 2021, when many closed again.

Internationally, if COVID-19 is not well controlled, governments may keep borders closed. According to the International Air Travel Association, international travel is unlikely to recover to pre-pandemic levels before 2024.This protracted fall in air travel, plus the reduction in commuter travel and the movement of people between states, reduced NSW’s transport-related carbon emissions from the beginning of 2020.

Waste management

In the short-term, NSW household expenditure is not expected to rebound from current levels until the extent of current lockdown measures are unwound.

Policy changes are shaping our approach to waste management. In 2018, China began to enforce restrictions on the import of waste. In March 2020, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres. Joint investments in reprocessing infrastructure will help bridge the gap in capacity to take the waste that NSW used to export, and remanufacture it locally.

In 2021, more than $24 million in grants was awarded under ‘Remanufacture NSW’ – a program jointly funded by the Australian and NSW governments. The NSW Government’s Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2040, Stage 1: 2021-2041 , also responds to the challenges of the export ban.

Our commitments for 2021 and beyond

This year the EPA developed a new guiding document – its Strategic Plan 2021–24, which came into effect on 1 July 2021.

Our previous strategic plan was due to be refreshed in 2021, giving us the chance to consider new ways we could adapt and respond to future environmental challenges and embed the principles of world class regulation.

In preparing the plan, our Board and Executive worked with the senior management team and staff to choose the areas to focus on over the next three years. We also gathered significant feedback from meetings with stakeholders that helped inform our future direction.

Our Strategic Plan 2021–24 together with our Regulatory Strategy outlines how we will achieve our ambition to be a world class regulator. The plan describes how we will be stewards of the environment and will use all our regulatory tools to protect and enhance the environment we live in today and in the future.

The EPA has identified five areas of focus for the next three years. See Our new strategic focus for more details.

1. ABS 2020, 5220.0 Australian National Accounts: State Accounts 2019–20, Bureau of Statistics, Canberra www.abs.gov.au/statistics/economy/national-accounts/australian-national-accounts-state-accounts/latest-release

2. NSW Government 2021, Economic outlook, NSW Treasury, Sydney www.treasury.nsw.gov.au/nsw-economy/about-nsw-economy/economic-outlook

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