The Victorian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA Vic) plans to reduce the regulatory barriers for importing black coal fly ash from New South Wales and Queensland for use in Victoria. They recently called on submission regarding the proposed changes.
The following are excerpts of FLoW’s ‘Submission feedback for Black Coal Fly Ash – reducing regulatory barriers for use’.
‘Our group have been active stakeholders challenging both Latrobe Valley coal mine operators and regulators on the mismanagement of coal ash disposal, appropriateness of landfill structures and disregard for ash contamination of our ground and surface
waters. In 2021, we released a report ‘When the ash settles: a community guide to cleaning up Latrobe Valley’s toxic coal ash’. Support for and reuse of brown coal ash was included, however, we did note Victorian EPA does not have guidelines for reusing brown coal ash safely. To make sure that it’s safe to use we need the EPA to develop safe reuse guidelines. These of course, would include the transparent regulation of all upstream processes to end product to ensure the risks are evaluated which currently they are not, then effective management processes are regulated.
EPA’s proposed changes to reduce regulatory burdens for transport and storage along with removing the licensing framework of black coal fly ash to facilitate resource recovery use is alarming for FLoW and those informed communities.
EPA want to remove legal obligations on all duty holders using a known hazardous waste just because the waste can be reused. The Consultation Paper has not justified how reducing regulatory protections and oversight can be protective of human and
environmental health or can prevent harm if managed under the General Environmental Duty (GED). Duty of care is only effective under a GED that is not compromised as fly ash continues to be a hazardous waste regardless and must continue to be regulated as such. Additionally, the State of Knowledge (SoK) for risk and harm is misguided based on assumptions in the absence of any studies, standards and guidelines.
This proves to be inconsistent with the regulatory framework on movement of hazardous and controlled waste between jurisdictions. Yes, there is an economic burden in terms of transport & storage of hazardous waste residues but there is also an obligation on the regulator to know where the declared priority waste is coming from, the testing regime, where it is going to and how it is stored, used and within what timeframes. Currently EPA do not know any of these factors because management processes are opaque.
It is particularly erroneous for EPA to declare “uniformity in the waste stream” and “existing robust and safe management procedures” therefore it justifies regulation reduction and licencing exemptions because EPA conclude risks and harm are
disproportionate from the management of waste”. The Consultation Paper has not provided enough detail to demonstrat e appropriate management for transport and storage of black coal fly ash including for reuse in concrete and other cement products. More transparency is required before the EPA can account whether regulatory requirements should be removed.
The EPA’s proposed approach to reclassify black coal fly ash from reportable priority waste to the lower risk category of priority waste is based on EPA’s determination the current regulatory framework is a disproportionate regulatory burden to the risk of
harm from black coal fly ash due to:
• the uniformity in the waste stream;
• existing robust and safe management procedures ; and
• proven usefulness of the waste material.
The exemption to remove licensing requirements under section 48 will remove more oversight of an industry which currently has little. This is regulatory capture ensuring no one is tracking ash waste and is not best practice to manage a hazardous waste.’