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Community enforcement a step further (Latrobe Valley Express)

By Heidi Kraak

A community advocate has welcomed the inclusion of a clause in an environmental protection bill before the Victorian Parliament that would allow the community to enforce pollution laws.

The Environment Protection Bill, if passed, will replace the Environment Protection Act 1970.

Voices of the Valley president Wendy Farmer said the community would not have had to rely on the Environment Protection Authority to take legal action following the Hazelwood mine fire if these rights had been available at the time.

“The Latrobe Valley community knows what it’s like to have to wait for the EPA to take legal actions. We also know how quickly we can get things done when our community works in a united way,” she said.

“If these new rights to allow communities to take legal actions had been available to us after the Hazelwood mine fire we would not have had to rely on the EPA to take legal action and definitely wouldn’t have waited two years to do so.

“That trial doesn’t start until next year and that’s five years after the fire.

“Since the Hazelwood Mine Fire the EPA has been given the tools and powers to not only react to pollution events but to take precautionary measures to prevent events happening – this reform complements the work that has already been done.”

Ms Farmer said, if passed, the new Bill would give Victorians the same rights as people in NSW and Queensland to enforce pollution laws when community health and the environment were threatened.

“Of course we want the EPA to be the authority to protect our environment and health. We expect them to do that,” she said.

“The environment belongs to everyone so we should have the right to enforce the law so that ours and that of our families’ health and environment is protected.

“These proposed laws will be an important safety net for communities like ours. We can’t see why all sides of government wouldn’t see this reform as a step forward for the protection of our health and environment.”

Environmental Justice Australia chief executive and lawyer Brendan Sydes said the Bill, if passed, would improve access to information, increase the accountability of the EPA and the participation of the Victorian community.

“The Victorian community rightly looks to EPA and the legislation it administers to protect the environment and community health from harmful pollution,” he said.

“Although we expect the Environment Protection Authority to remain the primary enforcer of pollution laws, the proposed right to take enforcement action will provide an important safety net should the EPA fail to do its job in enforcing pollution control laws.”

Published by the Latrobe Valley Express on 25 June 2018

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