Lawyers and community groups are urging the Victorian Government to immediately revoke its delay of the state’s Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018, due to come into effect in July this year, but placed on hold until July 2021.
Enactment of the Act was stalled by the state government in April to “ease the burden on business and industry as they address the impacts of coronavirus on their business.”
An Environmental Justice Australia statement, however, highlighted that in the past five weeks alone, toxic fires at industrial waste plants have polluted communities at Altona North, Campellfield and Thomastown.
“Overhauling existing regulation, the new Act would help improve air quality and give legal recourse to Victorian communities currently exposed to toxic pollution,” the statement reads.
According to Environmental Justice Australia Co-CEO Nicola Rivers, environmental disasters don’t stop for COVID, so neither should legislation.
“No one’s health should be put at risk from preventable pollution. Were the EP Act in force by July as promised, it may have helped prevent recent toxic pollution events at waste management plants in Altona North, Campellfield and Thomastown,” she said.
“At the very least, these communities may have had legal recourse against these industrial polluters.”
Rivers added that decades of environmental health disparities have contributed to these communities’ underlying health conditions, which experts are warning contribute to COVID-19 fatalities.
“Often these communities don’t have strong legal capacity to prevent pollution, so the government needs to step up,” she said.
“The government needs to stop stalling and prioritise bringing in the new EP Act as a matter of urgency.”
Anti-Toxic Waste Alliance Chair Sue Vittori said at a time when Victorians are under duress from the effects of COVID-19, the continual succession of waste-related fires “only serve to further undermine people’s sense of safety and wellbeing.”
“With the strong new powers promised to the EPA being delayed by more than a year, our communities have no confidence in the state government to ensure their safety or protection from continuing waste and chemical fires,” she said.
In an April statement announcing the EP Act deferral, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning said the EPA would continue to regulate under the Environment Protection Act 1970, including all subordinate legislation until the new commencement date.
“The Victorian Government is committed to the EPA’s reforms and the long-term benefits they will provide for all Victorians,” the statement reads.
“This is not a cancellation of the environment protection reforms. As with many aspects of working life at the present time, it is a responsive adjustment to the current circumstances.”