Last week I imposed the world’s most stringent environmental conditions on the Tamar Valley pulp mill project [in Tasmania]. My decision was based solely on science and implemented the recommendations of the Chief Scientist of Australia, Dr Jim Peacock who had reported on all of the scientific issues which fell under my jurisdiction.
Critics of the mill have claimed that I should have investigated and imposed conditions on matters outside the Commonwealth’s environmental jurisdiction.
They overlook the fact that I have to act within the law and as I have set at greater length on my website the Commonwealth’s environmental jurisdiction is limited to categories detailed in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
See below for a summary of the decision. Click here for the media release and links to the complete documentation.
Given the extraordinary degree of misinformation about this matter, I would like to set down a few facts about the mill.
The mill will not process any timber from old growth forests. The timber sources will come exclusively from plantation timber and regrowth forests, ie areas which have previously been logged and have regenerated. Within five years it is expected the mill will be using 80% timber from plantations. All timber sourced is covered by the Tasmanian Regional Forestry Agreement which mandates sustainable forestry practices.
There will be no additional logging needed to support the mill. The economics of the mill are based on adding value to woodchips which would otherwise be exported to overseas pulp mills (all of which would have less stringent environmental conditions than those I have imposed on the Tamar Valley pulp mill.)
The site of the pulp mill is not in a pristine wilderness, but in a precinct zoned “heavy industrial” which includes the Comalco aluminium smelter that has been operating there since 1955 as well as a power station and other industrial operations. Check it out on Google Earth if you don’t have time to visit.
The pulp mill will not add 2% to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. The Australian Greenhouse Office advises that because the mill will use renewable wood waste for energy it is likely to be either carbon neutral or have a low emission profile compared with the “business as usual” base case of woodchip production and export to pulp mills overseas. Remember power stations fuelled with renewable fuels (biomass) qualify under the MRET scheme in many circumstances. That is why ethanol and bio-diesel are regarded as green fuels.
As you know, I resolved back in August that I would refer the scientific issues central to my assessment of the proposal to the Chief Scientist of Australia, Dr Jim Peacock, who assembled a panel of scientists toadvise him, each of them an expert in the relevant fields.
The Chief Scientist presented me with his report last week and I have made a decision to approve the mill which, consistent with the recommendations of Dr Peacock, imposes the world’s toughest environmental safeguards.
In August, the draft recommendations of my Department proposed 24 conditions be imposed on the proposed pulp mill. The number of conditions has now doubled to 48. The conditions I have imposed are the toughest to be placed on any mill of this type in the world. My decision was based on a rigorous, accountable and transparent assessment process under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
My decision, consistent with Dr Peacock’s recommendations, includes:
1. 16 conditions relating to the management of effluent from the pulp mill, including stringent levels which if exceeded will mean the mill must close until such time as an advanced (tertiary) effluent treatment process that produces high quality water is put in place.
2. maximum dioxin levels in the effluent discharged from the mill will be almost four times more stringent than world’s best practice and trigger levels (which will require immediate remedial action) will be more than six times more stringent.
3. the establishment of an Independent Expert Group, appointed by the Minister and drawn from leading national and international scientists to assist with the design, implementation, monitoring and approval of the pulp mill.
4. a requirement that Gunns prepare for the Minister’s approval an integrated Environmental Impact Management Plan, in consultation with the Independent Expert Group, to ensure no adverse impacts on Commonwealth environment matters. Some elements of the plan will be required to be approved before any construction begins and the final plan requires approval before the mill is commissioned.
5. the appointment by the Minister of an Independent Site Supervisor to monitor Gunns’ compliance with the conditions. The Independent Site Supervisor will have the full range of powers as an inspector under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to ensure there are no impediments in terms of access to information or locations to the performance as supervisor.
6. 17 conditions relating to the protection of both listed threatened and migratory species, including measures to protect the Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle, the Tasmanian Devil, fur seals, whales, dolphins and rare native vegetation.
7. requirements for around 400 hectares of protected reserve to be set aside for protected plants and animals.
8. a requirement for transparent and regular reporting by Gunns of compliance with the conditions, to be independently audited by an auditor agreed to by the Department. This report must be also be made available to the public.
My decision was based on the advice of the Chief Scientist, comprehensive advice from my Department, and over 36,000 public submissions received during the assessment process. To ensure as much transparency and accountability as possible in the decision-making process, I included three periods of public comment over the five month since the assessment commenced in April 2007.
The Australian Government’s assessment of the mill was restricted to a set of defined environmental matters, namely the marine environment under Commonwealth jurisdiction, and threatened and migratory species.
As has consistently been the case throughout this assessment, the majority of public concerns relate to issues beyond the Australian Government’s legal powers. The Tasmanian Government is responsible for many of the issues surrounding the pulp mill. These include emissions of odours, local air quality and impacts on Tasmanian waters. I should note the stringent conditions on effluent composition that I have imposed (in order to protect Commonwealth waters) will confer added protection to the marine environment within Tasmanian jurisdiction. .
Wood supply issues are not subject to assessment under the EPBC Act so long as the wood supply, as is the case here, is covered by a Regional Forestry Agreement.
I have been very critical of the Tasmanian assessment process. The decision of the Lennon Government to abandon the assessment by the RPDC unfortunately undermined the trust of the people of Tasmania. The RPDC was, as is the usual practice, considering both State and Commonwealth environmental issues in a bilateral process. When Mr Lennon abandoned that process, I had no choice but to consider the Commonwealth issues myself and I have run a transparent and consultative Commonwealth assessment. The outcome of that process ensures that the pulp mill meets world’s best practice in those areas protected under Commonwealth environment law.
Please visit my Department’s website for more information on my decision, the conditions and a copy of the Chief Scientist’s report.
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources