States will have to take scientific advice on CSG
STATE governments will soon have to heed the advice of the national scientific committee when assessing the effects of coal seam gas developments on water resources, after changes to environmental laws passed the lower house on Monday.
While the Abbott Government's laws to hand over environmental approvals, including former independent MP Tony Windsor's "water trigger" passed the House, a government MP believes he has made the water regulations stronger.
After talks in recent weeks with Environment Minister Greg Hunt, first-term Page MP Kevin Hogan was able to secure changes to the Commonwealth's environmental laws as part of wider reforms for a one stop shop approvals process.
Those changes will actually enact recommendations The Greens made last year when the "water trigger" laws were being considered, to ensure the states took on the advice of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on CSG and large coal mines.
But the previous government did not act on those recommendations - which Mr Hogan described as a missed opportunity.
He said while he believed the NSW Government would act in the best interests of people and the community, the amendments would make sure there was still some Commonwealth oversight on CSG impacts on water.
"I really believe this will further strengthen the regulations - the first change is to make sure they take the advice, and the second allows the federal minister or the committee to raise concerns if they believe a proper process has not been taken," he said.
Mr Hunt said the amendments enforced a higher standard than the original laws, despite the laws themselves still being handed over to the state governments.
While Mr Hogan said he still had concerns about CSG developments across the Northern Rivers, the changes would mean states had no choice but to "consider" the scientific committee's advice.
However, he could not say why he had not taken the further step to ensure that as part of the handover of federal environment laws, that states should be forced to also act on such advice if needed.
The changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act will now go before the Senate for further debate.
Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters said on Tuesday the party would try to block the handover, fearing the devolution of such powers and staff cuts at state and federal level would undermine the laws.