WA EPA raises climate bar for fossil fuel projects, including LNG

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WA’s Environmental Protection Authority sets “higher bar” for fossil fuel projects in W.A. to deal with their emissions. Coalition calls it a sledge-hammer.

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While the federal Coalition continues to build its new coal plant castles in the air, the Environmental Protection Authority of Western Australia has laid down some annoyingly science-based new air quality standards decreeing that all new emissions-intensive projects in W.A. should be carbon-neutral.

The new standards, which some green groups argue still do not go far enough to rein in high-polluting projects, has drawn howls of outrage from Coalition ranks, citing its potential to stymie billions of dollars of fossil fuel projects in Australia’s most resource-rich state.

The guidelines will apply to all major projects, including those already under assessment by the EPA – which, it should be stressed, is an independent advisory body, only, and has no regulatory power over the government.

Reports in the Australian Financial Review suggest this puts more than $45 billion-worth of LNG projects in jeopardy, and poses a material threat to the broader resources industry that “underpins the state’s economy.”

Federal resources minister, Matt Canavan, wasted no time in describing the new standards as “a homemade sledgehammer” and an act of “economic self-harm” against the WA economy.

“It would be ridiculous for Australia to impose much greater restrictions on the development of our oil and gas than exists overseas,” he said. “It would do nothing to protect the environment but it would cost thousands of jobs in Australia.”

The EPA, meanwhile, says it is not a sledgehammer, but merely a “higher bar” for how it would assess the impact of major new projects that would increase the state’s emissions, and potentially impede the national abatement task.

And in a five-page Environmental Factor Guideline: Greenhouse Gas Emissions, it notes that it makes these changes “in the absence of effective regulatory requirements to mitigate GHG emissions” at the federal government level.

“In our view those (federal) 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 told reporters on Thursday.

“For some it will be more onerous than they may have enjoyed in the past.

“One of the reasons we plan to give the proponents a lot of time to consider plans is because it is onerous and puts a greater burden on transparency and planning and offsetting.”

The W.A. Labor government – which just on Wednesday was touting the state’s “genuine” and potentially world-leading low-carbon economic opportunity – appears to have distanced itself from the EPA’s new stance, saying it had been noted, but also noting that it was not binding to the government.

And it also reached out to the LNG industry to assure it was appreciated as “an important driver of WA’s economy … (and for its) important role as a transition fuel to lower global carbon emissions.”

“As a responsible state government it is important to ensure that projects have certainty for the long term,” said state environment minister Stephen Dawson in a statement on Thursday.

“The McGowan government is fully supportive of our job-creating LNG industry and will listen to their views as part of our response to the EPA.

“It is important that we have a clear understanding of the social, economic and financial implications of the EPA’s guidance.

“We will consult widely as part of our consideration of the EPA’s guidance and respond in due course to provide certainty for the industry.”

The statement also pointed out the W.A.government was in the process of developing a new coordinated climate policy for the state, that would ensure it played its part in meeting national emissions targets.

“It is the state government’s view that emissions mitigation is best managed through a nationally consistent approach,” it said.

On the other side of the fence, the ant-fracking Lock The Gate Alliance is not convinced the EPA’s new standard is anywhere near tough enough.

In a statement on Friday, the Alliance’s spokesperson Jane Hammond acknowledged it as “a small step forward,” but said it would miss the major impact of fracking and other fossil fuel developments in the state.

“It appears that the EPA’s new guidelines have missed a key opportunity to protect our land, water, health and climate stability by ignoring the downstream carbon footprint of processing and burning the oil and gas from this brand-new fossil fuel industry,” Hammond said.

“The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that the world has just 12 years to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C to avoid unstoppable climate catastrophe.

“Fifty of our top scientists including WA Scientist of the year Professor Peter Newman have already warned the WA Government that allowing fracking in this state would be ‘grossly irresponsible’ given the current climate situation.”

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