Western Australia’s Environmental Protection Authority has released a revised draft greenhouse gas emissions assessment guideline, nine months after it was forced to back away from proposed standards requiring all new emissions-intensive projects in the state to be carbon-neutral.
The new guideline, released by the W.A. EPA on Monday, calls on proponents of major greenhouse gas emitting projects to show how they can “reasonably and practicably avoid, reduce, and offset” emissions in line with the state’s net zero emissions by 2050 target.
This is a far cry from requiring proponents to immediately and completely offset their greenhouse gas emissions, which the EPA had proposed in March, to set a “higher bar” for assessing the impact of projects that would increase state emissions, and impede the national carbon abatement task.
“In our view … [federal government] regulations are not going to deliver the outcomes as currently applied that are necessary for Australia to meet its international obligations under the Paris Agreement. That’s why we’re doing this,” EPA chair Tom Hatton said at the time.
But within a week – and in the face of a major backlash from industry, fossil fuel lobby groups and federal Coalition ranks, and zero support from the state Labor government – the environmental watchdog was brought to heel, and the climate science-based “brain explosion” all but dismissed.
Nine months and “comprehensive consultation” later – almost 7000 submissions were received during the public consultation period – not much has changed, except that the state government has since introduced its own goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Nearly 7,000 of you made a submission to the EPA here in Western Australia on their Greenhouse Gas Emissions Guidelines✊
98% back strong action on the damaging emissions coming from our state🙌 The EPA now has the community mandate needed to produce strong emissions guidelines. pic.twitter.com/pJYETOBk4q
— Wilderness Society (@Wilderness_Aus) October 3, 2019
“A key foundation of the draft guideline released today is the expectation that the proponent will articulate their emission reduction targets over time to help contribute to the state’s goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” Dr Hatton said this week.
“The EPA supports proponents being publicly accountable for meeting the greenhouse gas targets set by the state, and will also consider undertaking its own public reporting on the progress of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Western Australia,” he said.
In comments on Monday, Hutton denied that the EPA had watered down its original draft guidelines, and also stressed that the watchdog is an independent advisory body, only, and has no regulatory power over the government.
“We can’t require a company to do anything,” he said. “We advise the government on conditions that should apply to the approval of a large project.”
But it’s difficult to believe that the intense backlash experienced in March did not take a toll.
And the positive responses from industry and government to the new draft guidelines is a pretty good indicator that they are lacking in any serious bite in terms of reining in resource sector emissions.
The WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CME) said it was “reasonably comfortable” with the revised guidelines, according to ABC Online.
“The last set of draft guidelines that came out in March … would have significantly impacted jobs in WA,” CME chief executive Paul Everingham said.
“Most of our membership believes that they should be able to work within these guidelines to progress to significant investment decisions,” he said.
The revised greenhouse gas guideline will now go to the EPA’s Stakeholder Reference Group for eight weeks for further feedback. The EPA says it continues to be “open to new information.”
The final guidance will be released in March 2020, and the EPA says it will review its guideline after the state government releases its State Climate Policy next year.