EPA not even a paper tiger

Blue Wedges tells Business Age readers just how silent EPA has gone about PoMC's toxic plumes and damage to The Rip

Anna Degotardi ‘Activists tip a bucket on big companies’ (Business Age 16/8) would have struck a chord with many community groups presently going through the hoops at Planning Panels, Ministerial Inquiries and VCAT. Ms. Degotardi’s retailing of the protracted inaction of the Victorian EPA over Shell Geelong breaches of environmental law made alarm bells ring about our experience with the EPA Victoria at the recently concluded Port Phillip Bay Channel Deepening Inquiry. We have been appalled and frustrated at the lack of involvement shown by the EPA in its advice to the Inquiry, especially in relation to the management of approximately 3 million tonnes of toxic sediments proposed for dredging from the lower reaches of the Yarra River, and which would be dumped again in the Bay in an underwater bunded area.

Based on its performance at the Inquiry, it was hard to see what role the EPA is now prepared to play in the direct protection of our environment, or even its preparedness to assume a proper oversighting and monitoring role in the Channel Deepening project. It seems EPA is prepared to allow the Port of Melbourne Corporation (PoMC) to become yet another serial polluter, dumping over several months huge volumes of contaminated sediment judged too toxic for landfill or indeed for ocean disposal outside The Heads, back into the Bay.

We wrote to the EPA on 29th July seeking clarification of several major issues which emerged during the Inquiry, but are yet to receive a reply. Since writing, the PoMC has revealed that since the 2005 Trial Dredge, rock scour and erosion at The Entrance is now predicted to be major and ongoing for 30 years – not the temporary and minor impacts predicted in the Supplementary Environmental Effects Statement (SEES). Yes, that’s right, the SEES which was released in March 2007 and was said by PoMC and government to be the most comprehensive and thorough study ever conducted on the Bay was not the final story after all. New information on toxic and contaminated sediments from the Yarra suggesting that risks to human health have been understated by the PoMC also emerged towards the end of the Inquiry, but based on its performance at the Inquiry on 6th July, we doubt that the EPA is going to bat an eyelid over any of this new, crucial information.

The EPA was brought into being in 1970 in response to community concerns about our environment and the realisation that more needed to be done at a co-ordinated state level to address the state of our waterways. Since then, it has carved out a reputation for excellence, albeit with some determined serial polluters to deal with, as chronicled by Ms. Degotardi. Now in 2007 it doesn’t even rank the status of “paper tiger”.  The EPA is responsible for legislation which was enacted specifically to address the issue of toxic material in the sediments of the Lower Yarra, and is the responsible authority with the designated task of regulating, monitoring and controlling the input of toxicants to the environment. It’s time it did just that or told us why it no longer can fulfil that role.

An edited version of this letter appeared in the Business Age on Saturday 18th August 2007

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