Road tunnel ventilation stacks remove motor vehicle emissions from within a tunnel, so the tunnel can be used safely by motorists. Modern tunnel ventilation stacks discharge emissions into the atmosphere at sufficient heights to protect the health of the community near the stack.
The EPA is now the lead regulator for air emissions from motorway tunnel ventilation stacks. This requires tunnel operators to hold an environment protection licence issued by the EPA. Tunnel operators are required to report air emissions on their websites and their licence conditions will be publicly available on the EPA’s website on the public register, increasing transparency and community confidence in the way the tunnel stack emissions are regulated.
What has changed
By 5 March 2020, tunnel operators of all current motorway tunnels with ventilation stacks must hold an environment protection licence issued by the EPA. Operators of motorway tunnels currently under construction will have to hold a licence at the start of tunnel use.
The licence places strict operating requirements on air emissions from ventilation stacks.
The licence conditions for newer tunnels are substantially consistent with the conditions of approval set by the Department of Planning, Infrastructure and Environment, and available on DPIE’s public register.
The Eastern Distributor, Sydney Harbour Tunnel and M5East Tunnel are older tunnels and do not have stack emission limits in their conditions of approval. The EPA is requiring these tunnel operators to undertake pollution studies to develop appropriate emission limits.
The licence also requires air quality monitoring of tunnel ventilation stacks. The monitoring data is required to be publicly available through tunnel operators’ websites and provided to the EPA for review.
As part of its regulatory role the EPA will undertake compliance activities to ensure ventilation stacks are operated according to the licence conditions.
The licences and any associated regulatory actions and decisions are available on the EPA’s public register at www.epa.nsw.gov.au/prpoeoapp.
Air quality in motor tunnels
This amendment does not include the regulation of air emission inside motorway tunnels. The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) regulates the design, construction and operation of motorway tunnels through the planning approval process.
Air quality inside operating motorway tunnels and emissions from portals (tunnel entrances or exits) are also regulated by DPIE through project-specific conditions of approval. The EPA provides technical advice to DPIE to inform the approval process.
How the air quality is managed in tunnels varies for each tunnel and is determined by factors such as:
- Length of tunnel
- Volume of traffic
- Tunnel ventilation
- Technical design and age
Motor vehicle emissions
Air quality in Sydney is generally good by national and international standards.
While there are increasingly more cars on the road, stricter emission standards and improved fuel quality have resulted in substantial reductions in pollution in the past two decades. However, motor vehicles remain a major source of air pollution in Sydney, contributing to emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOC) and fine particles (PM2.5).
New on-road motor vehicle emission limits are set by the Commonwealth Government via the Australian Design Rules.
The EPA will issue environment protection licences for all currently operating tunnels by 5 March 2020. The EPA will require older tunnels that do not have stack emission limits in their conditions of approval such as Eastern Distributor, Sydney Harbour Tunnel and M5East Tunnel to undertake pollution studies to develop appropriate emission limits.
The EPA will undertake compliance activities to ensure tunnel ventilation stacks are operated according to their licences. The EPA will also continue to support initiatives to further reduce emissions at the source.
- See frequently asked questions about the amendment
- Learn more about air emissions in your community