Landmark environmental reforms have now commenced

The biggest changes to environment protection legislation in more than three decades commenced on 3 April. There are now higher penalties and stronger regulatory action for those who do the wrong thing.

The Environment Protection Legislation Amendment (Stronger Regulation and Penalties) Act 2024 contains the most significant amendments to environment protection rules since the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) was established in 1991.

With the passing of this Act, NSW now has the strongest environmental regulation of any state or territory in Australia.

The Act addresses critical loopholes, introduces recall powers, and ensures the EPA has stronger powers to deter environmental crimes and respond faster to pollution incidents.

The Environment Protection Legislation Amendment (Stronger Regulation and Penalties) Act 2024 includes:

Doubling maximum penalties – The most serious offences carry penalties of $10 million for companies and $2 million for individuals. Fines for certain asbestos-related offences have increased to $4 million for companies and $1 million for individuals.

Raising on-the-spot fines – Common environmental offences have more than doubled to $30,000 for companies and $15,000 for individuals for a first offence, and $45,000 and $22,500 respectively for a second. Fines for littering small items in public places have doubled to $160. Public land managers such as Councils have the authority to issue illegal dumping fines of $5,000 to companies and $1,000 to individuals, increasing to $10,000 for corporations and $2,500 for individuals if the dumping occurs in sensitive places like a school, hospital, or national park.

Environmental recall powers – New controls have been established to recall contaminated substances that could harm the community or the environment.

Public transparency – A public ‘name and shame’ power allows the EPA to issue warnings about poor environmental performers and sub-standard practices.

Strengthened investigation powers – Introducing preliminary investigation notices enable early testing and sampling.

Licence bans – The Land and Environment Court can issue orders to prevent serious and repeat offenders from applying for an environmental protection licence.

The urgent overhaul to environment protection legislation is occurring at the same time as the criminal investigation into asbestos-contaminated mulch, which is the largest probe in the EPA’s history and has emphasised the need to strengthen environmental legislation.

Changes to maximum penalties and on-the-spot fines apply to offences committed on or after 3 April 2024.