WA EPA falls back to public accountability on emissions

Any large project in WA will now need to tell the EPA how it will achieve zero-net emissions by 2050 before it can go for Ministerial approval.

WA EPA falls back to public accountability on emissions

This article was first published in Australian Energy Daily © Peter Milne.

Large carbon polluting projects in WA will have to submit detailed emission reduction plans that will be made public and are likely to be followed by regular progress reports under a draft guideline released by the WA Environmental Protection Authority yesterday.

The EPA has dropped its March plan to recommend all emissions from large new projects be offset, as revealed by Australian Energy Daily last week, and instead has added some meat to the skeleton of the WA government’s new “aspiration of net-zero emissions by 2050”.

The EPA’s plan for 100% offsets lasted just seven days after it caused an industry furore despite the government only having an obligation to consider EPA recommendations, not follow them.

EPA chair Tom Hatton said the State government “owns” the 2050 target and the EPA aimed to inform it on the implications of major new projects for meeting the target.

“It is the EPA's role to hold everyone accountable to those commitments, we will make those commitments on the projects we assess public and accessible and we will publicly report on industry and government progress,” he said.

In WA the EPA assesses the environmental implications of projects and recommends to the environment minister what conditions should be imposed.

Under its Greenhouse Gas Emissions Policy for Major Projects, released in August, the government “may” consider requiring a plan detailing the project’s contributions to the 2050 target, after receiving recommendations from the EPA.

While the EPA can only recommend conditions to be imposed on projects it assesses, it can determine what information the projects provide.

“If they can't give us the basic information we need to assess their project then we can’t move to assessment, so that's problematic,” Hatton said.

The EPA’s draft guidance will require projects with direct emissions greater than 100,000 tonnes of CO2e a year to submit greenhouse gas management plans to the EPA. Submissions to the EPA are published on its website.

The plans at a minimum must outline interim and long-term targets for reductions in direct emissions and “demonstrate all reasonable and practicable measures have been applied to avoid, reduce and offset a proposal’s scope 1 emissions”.

“This guideline does not expect them to show how their proposal gets to net zero in 2050, its how it helps the State get there and what the implications are if it doesn't, how big that gap is,” Hatton said.

The guidance stated the EPA supported projects being required to report progress against emission targets and the Authority would also consider producing its own reports on the projects.

As the number of projects with greenhouse gas management plans accumulates “it will make very visible to the public what different companies...are achieving, or prepared to achieve, or not achieving,” Hatton said.

The EPA could require greenhouse gas management plans for an entire project if an expansion or change in operations required the project to be reassessed by the EPA for greenhouse gas emissions. Hatton said this would be considered on a case by case basis.

After further consultation, the EPA plans to publish the final guideline in March.

Woodside, that plans to sanction to WA LNG projects in the next two years, was the most vocal critic of the EPA’s plan to recommend full offsets. The offshore emissions of its Scarborough and Browse projects are outside the jurisdiction of the EPA in Commonwealth waters however the EPA does assess the onshore LNG plants.

The EPA is assessing work on the North West Shelf LNG plant to allow it to process gas from Browse. Hatton said the EPA would also provide advice on the suitability of the greenhouse gas management plan for the Pluto LNG project where a second train is to be built for gas from Scarborough.

Hatton said the EPA board normally used the current guideline when it considered a project at the end of its assessment process. He said proponents of projects already in the process had been advised that it “it would be very wise to anticipate...the State policy” of net-zero by 2050.

Compared to the vocal response in March to the previous plan requiring full offsets, government and industry comments were muted.

Environment Minister Stephen Dawson merely looked forward to receiving the final guideline.

A Woodside spokesperson said it was acting to reduce emissions, including the offsetting of its equity share of CO2 vented from reservoirs.

“Woodside supports and shares the WA State government’s aspiration of net zero emissions by 2050, which is implicit in the Paris Agreement,” the spokesperson said.

Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA chief executive Paul Everingham said he was pleased the EPA draft guideline was consistent with the State government’s policy.

“Today’s draft guideline clearly acknowledges the need to assess new proposals on a case by case basis on their merits, which is something CME advocated for,” Everingham said.

Hatton said he did not know if the State’s net-zero by 2050 aspiration was realistic.

“I can't forecast that, we only look at the big projects,” Hatton said.

Main image: Chimney stack. Source: veeterzy on Unsplash