Regulated stakeholders roadshows February and March 2021

forum participant takes the microphone to ask the EPA executive a questionWhat we heard

Through roundtable sessions we discussed local environmental matters including waste management, contaminated land, planning and development and emergency and incident management.

We asked what attendees thought of our draft Regulatory Strategy – part of a broader public consultation. The discussions were invaluable, and the final Regulatory Strategy was released later in the year.

We heard from participants that the forums were a positive and valuable way to engage with the EPA in an open and receptive environment. Also, that the forums provided an opportunity to have a constructive dialogue to identify and understand key issues and develop a road map for how we can collaborate better.

EPA executive team takes the stage at the roadshowParticipants welcomed hearing about the new EPA structure and strategy as well as the functionality of the Hub. We also heard from stakeholders that they would like to collaborate more with the EPA and work together to learn and build capability. We have responded to feedback by making a number of changes, including updating guides and increasing engagement opportunities.

During the open floor question and answer sessions the EPA listened to stakeholder feedback and answered questions. A summary of the key themes and common questions and topics discussed and how we are implementing feedback are outlined below.

The EPA and how we work

The EPA has committed to becoming a world class regulator. What does this mean and how did the EPA determine that?

The EPA is committed to becoming a modern, world class environmental regulator – one that protects human health and the environment, holding polluters to account and promoting methods to protect and enhance the environment.

Being a world class regulator is about being our best and understanding that it’s not a destination, or an achievement, it’s a constant pursuit of learning, improvement and excellence.

To help inform this, the EPA Executive engaged with regulators internationally to consider if our practices are aligned, where we are doing well and where we can improve.

We’ve identified the key areas to build on across our organisation if we’re to become a world class regulator

  • We will bring a learning mindset
  • We will be outcomes focused
  • We will be responsive and adaptive
  • We will have a service orientation
  • We will be purpose and people-centred
To enable this new journey, we’ve made some major changes, including functional, cultural and workforce change. We are refreshing our strategic focus, and becoming more action oriented to anticipate emerging or future issues before they take hold. The EPA has a new structure, with seven divisions aligned to functional areas.

How does this new EPA central triage system work and why has the EPA moved to this new system? Will this cause more delays and what support can councils and licensees receive from the Hub?

The EPA has a major role in responding to a wide range of environmental incidents reported to us by the public, industry and emergency services. We also regulate major industries across NSW that generate a range of regulatory tasks and enforcement actions under our risk based licencing system. The EPA has created a new central state-wide operational team “The Hub” to deliver agile ways of working. The Hub looks at work allocation across our networks, helps prioritise the efforts of our regulatory teams, provides guidance on difficult issues and adjusts to changing priorities. It consists of experienced operations staff who will improve decision making, collaboration and reduce risk.

We recognise this represents a significant change to the operating systems and culture that you may have previously experienced. Many changes to our internal and external systems to facilitate this agile approach have already been implemented and further work is still required. As we rapidly evolve to this new approach, we are asking you to work with us in a fundamentally different way on our journey to be a world class regulator.

How it works

The Hub meets regularly with the operations leadership team in a "huddle". At these huddles, work task allocations are discussed, assessed and assigned to work units. The Hub monitors the delivery of the work to continually improve decision making, identify any roadblocks that need clearing and prepare for the next priority.

The allocation of work at the Huddles considers the capability and capacity of each work unit, sharing staff expertise and stakeholder considerations. We have moved away from strict geographical boundaries for work allocation for each EPA office and the previous “responsible officer” model. We are working to be more agile and responsive across any location in NSW. As a result, stakeholders may no longer deal with a single officer or office as they may have done so in the past.

The EPA has a range of case management and information management systems that allow responsive interactions across all operations staff in NSW, irrespective of officer location.

The EPA Environment Line provides a central point of contact for the EPA. This includes incident reports and licensing enquiries.  Please phone 131 555 or email at when you would like to contact us.

Why we moved to a Hub system 

During our stakeholder surveys the EPA received constructive feedback seeking improvements to our consistency in approaches and responsiveness to a wide range of matters. 

The COVID-19 pandemic, recent bush fire and flood responses have also highlighted the importance of being able to adapt to change and shift to new work approaches quickly. By moving away from a strictly geographical basis for work allocation we have greater “surge capability” via the daily huddles to respond to issues as they arise.

The Hub is improving our decision making, reducing risk and enhancing collaboration within our organisation.  By helping to schedule work across our teams the Hub will help the EPA better capture emerging issues, identify important trends and prevent regulatory capture. It will also help ensure a consistent approach to our regulation.

The Hub has adapted the spirit of agile project management to reflect the types of work coming into the EPA.  This allow us to break large projects down into more manageable tasks tackled in short iterations or sprints.

We are aware that some companies operate similar state-wide businesses (for example concrete batching plants or quarries). Many pollution or environmental incidents are not unique to locations. The Hub system allows us to draw on staff expertise and knowledge of operations across NSW. It is not okay for a single EPA officer at a single location to be the only person aware of a licence or activity or issue. It should not matter where you are located in NSW, we believe you should get a consistent and timely level of service.

The Hub, established in September 2020, does not impact existing critical functions, such as incident management (during business and after hours).

What is the EPA doing to improve timeliness of our responses?

The EPA is seeking to improve our timeliness of responses across the organisation.

We have established a Major Compliance and Investigations team to increase our investigation expertise, ensure our responses to investigations can be timely and to align with our legal processes.

We have also established the “Hub” to improve our decision making.

We are also working to provide guidance to make it easier for the public to report pollution, to increase the timeliness of responses.

What is the EPA Executive's opinion on the EPA’s role in restoring and enhancing the environment? Has there been a shift from compliance to genuine protection and improvement?

The EPA is leading by example in environmental protection. Internally, the EPA has committed to go carbon neutral. We are also focusing on how we influence behaviour to bring about positive change.

Our CEO Tracy Mackay said, “I was overwhelmed when I came to the EPA at the level of passion and commitment of the EPA staff to protect the environment.”

The EPA’s Executive Director Regulatory Operations Metropolitan Stephen Beaman said, “A person I worked with said something that stayed with me: do good things and no one ever tells you to stop. There’s so much you can work on that will make a difference to someone’s life. Like the work we are doing on bushfires. Purposeful, powerful work. People may never know our role, but I know we have made their life better.”

What is the EPA doing to prevent the loss of staff experience and technical knowledge?

The EPA has a new structure, with seven divisions aligned to functional areas. This includes dedicated areas of expertise, including technical areas, regulatory policy, operational work, legal services, the development and delivery of programs and grants.

Through the Hub and our new functional structure we are moving to an agile model. This will allow us to bring expert knowledge transfer across the EPA in a much more systemic way to benefit licensees and other groups we work with.

The EPA is also investing significantly in our workforce under this transformation, looking at talent management, development and training.

Will the EPA continue its new commitment to engagement and service delivery?

The EPA is committed to improving the way it engages with stakeholders. We have developed a new Charter of Engagement that outlines our commitment to stakeholders.  

  • We place people at the centre of our thinking
  • We prioritise positive behaviour change
  • We are clear and genuine when we interact with people
  • We are service oriented
  • We communicate with, not to, people and the starting point for this is listening
  • We are outcomes focused and close the feedback loop
  • We have a learning mindset

We are developing an engagement training package to upskill staff, to be rolled out in the second half of 2021. We are committing to holding forums with stakeholders twice a year. We will shape the forums to meet stakeholders needs.

Does the EPA engage with other EPA jurisdictions?

The EPA engages with, and seeks to learn from, other environmental regulators nationally and overseas. The EPA CEO is a member of the Australian Heads of EPAs which meets regularly to discuss national environmental regulatory matters. We have close relationships with other EPAs to learn from each other.

During the 2019-2020 summer bushfires, many EPA staff were involved in the response efforts. To support our ongoing work, colleagues from other states were engaged to assist us.

Does the EPA have a board of Directors; how does that work?

The EPA is an independent regulatory agency, with policy responsibility to government. The EPA has a Board who are responsible for us as an entity and we report to them.

How does the EPA evaluate enforcement and regulation? What is the internal review process that the EPA goes through before regulatory action is taken, and what opportunity does the receiver have to talk with the EPA about that before it’s finalised?

The EPA now has a Regulatory Investigation Panel – this means we can make more consistent and robust decisions, supported by all relevant functional areas. It enables us to make better, more timely and consistent decisions about major investigations and to use the right regulatory tools consistently. The new panel should enable licensees to get earlier advice from us about what decisions we’re considering and making.

The EPA does not issue fines on the spot in a similar way to councils. When regulatory action is taken there is careful consideration and discussion, and a manager is involved in the final decision making. The EPA also has a review mechanism to check if the decision was appropriate and consistent with the compliance policy.

The EPA is improving how we communicate when we undertake an investigation, including providing more information about our evidence collection and issues identified during an inspection.

How does the EPA measure success? How does the EPA measure the effectiveness of a pollution reduction program in improving outcomes for the environment?

The EPA produce the NSW State of the Environment Report every three years. It compiles information and data from across all NSW government agencies with responsibility for managing the state's environmental assets to report on the status of key environmental issues facing the state. It is an important tool for measuring outcomes for the environment.  

The EPA develops case studies to feature in our annual reports, newsletter and on our website demonstrating examples of positive environmental outcomes and best practice. For example, the EPA has data on how many pollution reduction programs are issued, but key for us is to communicate and provide examples of how outcomes for the environment are improved.

We also have a project underway reviewing the data we collect to ensure it meets current needs and we will update councils and licensees on the project, including at the next Roadshows.

Support for councils

Is there likely to be a devolving of tasks from the EPA down to local government?

The EPA is not actively devolving responsibilities to local government. However, we do want to work with local government to identify where we can support local government, especially smaller councils in rural areas.

Within the Department of Planning Industry and Environment the regulator agencies are working together to look at how we can provide a better service, this includes looking for duplication and synergies, for example in reporting systems.

What support and advice does the EPA make available for councils?

The EPA and councils share the responsibility for environmental protection. The EPA is available to provide expert advice and support to councils and is seeking to work more with councils to identify where support is needed. That is a key aim of the EPA Roadshows.

The EPA is also exploring better ways of working collaboratively with local councils. We have established a Local Government Advisory Group which meets regularly to discuss key issues where we work in partnership, where we co-regulate and where the EPA is the regulatory authority.

The EPA recognises that the community wants data and information about environment protection in their local area and there is an opportunity for the EPA to work in partnership with councils to provide information to the community about local environmental matters.

The Hub is available for councils to call about local issues and where they need support, not just for licencing matters.

Is the EPA going to do more in community education?

The EPA has created a new section bringing together our program, engagement, partnership and education specialists.  

The EPA’s partnerships with local councils are very important. Community education is a significant component of our partnerships with local government, particularly in managing waste and litter. We are looking at how we can develop our partnerships, working through what that includes, and examining how we can develop an effective model for delivery.

NSW Government interagency coordination

How does the EPA work with other regulatory agencies and is the government looking at duplication of regulatory systems?  

Within the Department of Planning Industry and Environment, the regulator agencies are working together to look at how we can provide a better service, this includes looking for duplication and synergies, for example in reporting systems.

For example, with the Natural Resources Access Regulator we share information about how we work to build consistency and we share training resources to reduce overlap.

The EPA will develop a guide to provide stakeholders with more clarity of the roles of the different regulatory agencies in the environment space.

EPA’s role in Planning assessments

What is the EPA’s role in planning assessments and how much influence does the EPA have to achieve better planning and environmental outcomes in the assessments process?

The EPA’s biggest regulatory lever to achieve positive outcomes for the environment in the planning process is influence. New or expanding developments and activities generally require an environmental impact assessment.

The EPA does not issue planning approvals. We provide input to the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment on both the strategic land use planning processes, and those that involve proposals that will require an environment protection licence.

The EPA's expert technical input helps ensure that development is designed and located to prevent or minimise adverse or harmful impacts to the environment, human health, and amenity.

The EPA has established a Strategic Planning Section to influence the development and review of strategic land use planning instruments. The new section will promote reduced environmental impacts, and improved environmental management, through the strategic land use planning system.

The team will lead EPA involvement in the development and review of strategic planning instruments so we can prevent environmental harm and land use conflicts at the earliest possible opportunity. There will be a particular focus on specific planning initiatives that may impact on the licensing and regulation activities of the EPA.

Allocating specialised resources to this area will increase our focus on collaboration and partnerships with key stakeholders and build connections with peer organisations to foster innovation and shared learning.

Also, as part of the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, the EPA has more visibility in the process from early on. The EPA’s CEO is a member of the DPIE leadership team and the EPA’s Executive Directors for Regulatory Operations sit on major planning committees. This doesn’t mean the EPA can control planning decisions, but we can influence, and we are increasing our capacity to influence with our Strategic Planning Section.

Emergency preparedness

What is the EPA’s role in the response to increasing natural events, with bush fires, COVID-19 and floods?

The EPA has a strong role to play and has been increasing its experience and resilience in emergency and incident response under the pressure of the events of the past few years. The EPA is a member of the State Recovery Committee, two Regional Recovery Committees (Hawkesbury-Nepean and North Coast) and we are involved in the Environment Plan for NSW and the Emergency Waste Disaster Plan

During the bushfires 2,650 houses were destroyed, 340,000 tonnes of waste was generated including a large amount of contaminated waste. The scale of debris and waste meant that local plans were not sufficient, and a state plan was needed. This allowed the EPA to engage a contractor to ensure that clean-up was done securely and safely.

EPA licensees are required to have a Pollution Incident Response Management Plan in place, to ensure they are ready to respond to an incident. When we have early warning of potential weather events, we communicate with licensees to ensure they are prepared.

Will the EPA be reviewing the way PIRMP’s are developed and what support is available for licensees?

Pollution Incident Response Management Plans provide an opportunity for individual facilities to manage risk, including specific worst-case scenario possibilities.

These plans are important for a variety of incidents to ensure all staff know what to do in an emergency. This becomes important when key staff might not be available, for example during COVID-19 or if they are fighting bushfires. It means other people can use the plan to act and respond.

It’s also important for the community to have confidence that industry is well prepared if something goes wrong. The EPA will provide advice to licensees on how to make PIRMPs useful and valuable.

Waste and resource recovery 

What is the EPA’s role in the 20 Year Waste Strategy?

On 14 June 2021 Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Environment Minister Matt Kean announced the NSW Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041 Stage 1: 2021-2027, and the NSW Plastics Action Plan. Both are available on the DPIE website here.

The NSW Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041 and Plastics Action Plan set the strategic direction for waste management in NSW and are backed by $356 million in funding over five years from 1 July 2022. The Strategy creates a path forward for the EPA’s waste management policy and programs, building on the Waste Less Recycle More initiative. The EPA will begin working closely with stakeholders, including councils, in designing and implementing policies and programs that support these strategic plans.

The strategy has integrated valuable feedback from stakeholders. We have heard loud and clear about the importance of harmonisation, supporting materials created in NSW to have a value to prevent the importation of low-cost virgin materials and integrating waste and materials management into the planning system to drive circularity.

Is the EPA looking to improve its reporting systems RIDOnline and WasteLocate? How does the EPA ensure all of industry is using WasteLocate?

The EPA is developing a digital strategy, which has involved a comprehensive review of its reporting systems, including in the waste space, industry annual reports and how the community reports pollution to the EPA. The EPA is exploring reporting apps and working with other regulators across the Department of Industry, Planning and Environment.

What advice can the EPA provide on where the government is heading in relation to new technology and markets for resource recovery?

The NSW Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041 and Plastics Action Plan are now available the DPIE website here. To complement this strategy, the NSW Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy has also been released. This provides a guide to future infrastructure needs, which sets out the investment pathway required for NSW to meet future demand for residual waste management and recycling.

As part of the new strategy, the EPA will continue to provide a number of grants to encourage innovation and new resource recovery markets and technology. We also have grants available to look at the emerging problem waste of solar panels.

What is the EPA doing to improve the way it regulates resource recovery?

The EPA is currently reviewing its transparency and timelines of responses in relation to the Resource Recovery Framework.

In response to stakeholder feedback on the Resource Recovery Framework, we have already made progress on a number of initiatives that address issues raised.

This includes developing an external document Understanding the Resource Recovery Framework, which aims to clarify EPA processes and expectations, to empower stakeholders. The EPA is also developing online application forms to clarify the process for seeking approval under the Framework, to guide the applicant, and to streamline the EPA’s assessment process by standardising the content and format of applications.

Will the waste levy be reviewed, what support is there for border towns?

The waste levy aims to reduce the amount of waste being landfilled and promote recycling and resource recovery, by requiring some waste facilities in NSW to pay a contribution for each tonne of waste received at the facility. The levy applies to the Sydney metropolitan area, the Illawarra and Hunter regions, the central and north coast local government areas to the Queensland border as well as the Blue Mountains, Wingecarribee and Wollondilly local government areas.

The waste levy is a NSW Government policy. For councils on the borders of the levy area, the EPA is committed to exploring the issues and seeing how we can solve them.

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