Under section 74(6) of the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994, the EPA Board must provide an opportunity for the public to comment on all proposals during the assessment process. Anyone wishing to make a submission is welcome to do so.
The statutory period of public comment opens once a proponent has submitted comprehensive documentation about the proposal, which takes the form of an Environmental Effects Report (EER) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Draft EIS guidelines may also be advertised for comment, where a proposal is subject to a very high level of public interest.
Submissions must be addressed to the correct entity (typically the local Council) and submitted within the specified timeframe in order to be valid. Proposals currently advertised for public comment are available on the Proposals Assessed by the EPA page.
Why make a submission?
By making a submission, you can express your opinion of the proposal, contribute knowledge and make suggestions. Your submission can help in assessing the accuracy and suitability of the proponent's documentation, as you may have useful information which is not known to others, especially if you live or work in the area. Your submission will also assist in the preparation of an Environmental Assessment Report, which contains recommendations to the EPA Board.
If you prefer not to write your own comments, you may wish to consider joining a group interested in making a submission on similar issues. Joint submissions reduce the workload for individuals, as well as increase the pool of ideas and information. If you form a group, the names of participants should be indicated on the submission.
Please note that a group submission prepared and signed by one person is considered to be a single 'representation'. Everyone who wants to be considered as a representor should provide their contact details and sign the submission.
What to say in a submission
A submission may be as long or a short as you like. In your submission you may agree with, or disagree with, or comment on the issues raised in the EIS or EER. It helps if you provide reasons for your conclusions, and provide relevant supporting data.
Here are some questions that you may like to ask yourself when reviewing the EIS or EER:
- Does the document clearly describe the project and the existing environment?
- Does it identify the environmental issues that you consider important?
- Are the management measures committed to by the proponent adequate to control any environmental impacts?
- Is there recorded or anecdotal local knowledge of the environment which could help in understanding any potential environmental impacts?
- Is there any other information that is incorrect or missing from the document?
- Could the project be improved in any way? Can you think of any alternative solutions or other ways of managing environmental impacts?
Making your submission effective
When making your submission remember to include:
- Your name
- Your address
- The date you made the submission
Here are some points to help make your submission more effective:
- Find out about the proposal before making your submission. This can involve talking to others, or reading available material from newspapers, libraries or the proponent.
- Be brief, simple and clear. Organise your thoughts logically.
- Be specific, rather than general in your comments.
- Where possible, relate your comments to specific sections of the EIS or EER. Preferably, each comment should include a reference to the relevant section of the EIS or EER.
- Use dot points and headings to help organise your ideas.
- Use photographs, maps or sketches where appropriate.
- Be constructive in your comments, such as by identifying additional potential impacts, or options for avoiding, mitigating or managing impacts.
- Attach any factual information you may wish to provide, such as scientific reports. Make sure your information is accurate.
- Include a summary of the main points if your submission is longer than a few pages.
- It is equally important to comment on parts of a proposal that are positive or offer new opportunities for local communities.
Do not think that you are only one voice and that you won't make a difference. Past experience has shown that one well-reasoned submission which raises a valid concern or offers a constructive suggestion can be very helpful and important to the assessment process. Each submission is important in its own right, but those submissions that present reasons for concern and offer good information and suggestions are of most use.
Under section 74(7) of the EMPC Act, the EPA Board has an obligation to publicly disclose all information relating to the environmental impact of the proposal, except where there is a legitimate commercial, national security or environmental reason for confidentiality. As a result, the EPA Board may publicly disclose all or part of a submission.
All submissions received will normally be treated as publicly available. If you wish your submission to be considered as confidential, then this should be requested in the submission, along with the basis upon which the request is made.
What happens next?
Your submission will be read by the officer preparing the Environmental Assessment Report and presented to the EPA Board. The proponent will be asked to provide a response to all relevant public submissions and may provide additional information (a supplement) or modify the proposal to address concerns.
An Environmental Assessment Report will then be prepared, containing recommendations on the proposal to the EPA Board. These recommendations will be based on the assessment of the proponent's documentation, public submissions and other specialist advice. The report will include a summary of the relevant issues raised in public submissions and should allow you to see how your concerns were taken into account.
Everyone who makes a submission will receive notification of the EPA Board's decision on the proposal. The Environmental Assessment Report will be published on the Agency's website.