Australia must strengthen it Environmental Protection Act – the case of Yeelirrie uranium project

On April 2, environmentalists across Australia met online, in a webinar focussed on the EPBC Act.   The federal government is holding a Review of the  Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act , with Submissions due by 9th April.

The Conservation Council of Western Australia, and Nuclear Free WA hosted the webinar.  The case of the Yeelirrie uranium project was discussed, as a case especially relevant to the EPBC Act.  As it turns out, the EPBC is weak, in relation to having power over this project. It relies on the Western Australian EPA for the relevant decision.  Extraordinarily, in this case, the EPA advised against the project. However, the Environment Minister at the time, overrode this advice, and approved the project anyway.

Piers Verstagen, of CCWA, outlined the history of CCWA’s work in holding the Wester Australian EPA’s assessments to account. The  Yeelirrie uranium project would threaten the extinction of up to 11 stygofauna, which are tiny groundwater species. The EPA therefore did not recommend the project. However, in approving the project , the Minister also inserted a clause into the legislation, which now will allow the extinction of any species.  CCWA has challenged that approval. The project has not proceeded.

But – this Yeelirrie case is a fine example of the reasons why the EPBC Act needs to be strengthened, not weakened. Weakening the Act is the goal of the Mining Council and others, who seek unfettered development of mining and other polluting projects.

Ruby Hamilton pointed out the need for Australia’s Environmental Protection Act to relate to international treaties on environment.

Annica Schoo  described ways in which the Act should be strengthened, emphasising that:

  • We need to keep  the right for 3rd parties to challenge bad decisions.
  • We need an independent authority to administer the EPBC Act.
  • WE need way more transparency in the way that the Act is used

 

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