It’s easy being green – or not?

| June 25, 2018

Most people are now rightly concerned about the environment, but does popular concern necessarily translate into effective action?

Proposed major changes to the Environment Protection Act (Victoria) would include ‘third party ‘community’ rights’ allowing courts, on application by an individual or community group with standing, to enforce the new legislation where EPA has not acted.

‘Community rights’ of this kind seem reasonable if we think that anyone who claims expertise in health or environmental science should be free to divert already stretched Magistrates Court or VCAT resources.

The new law would require the EPA to respond and from experience with the works approval system, I can say this will tie up valuable expertise that could otherwise be employed in monitoring and pollution control work.

In Germany where such community rights exist, an incident reportedly occurred some years ago that shows how good intentions can go wrong.

Some amateur observers convinced themselves that a company was polluting a stream with chlorine. Anyone with a backyard pool knows that the chlorine level can be roughly measured using a colour comparison chart.

Chlorine is very reactive, so sampling and testing in a stream where organic matter and dissolved salts etc, may create a complex situation, often requires specialist knowledge and experience.

The German observers alleged that the environment agency had not taken action against the company but instead they had informed the observers that their monitoring data were flawed. Legal proceedings ensued in which it was discovered that one of the observers was partly colourblind.

Care must be taken to avoid similar mistakes in this country and ensure that our nation’s environmental protection laws serve their purpose properly in line with scientific evidence, rather than uninformed rhetoric.

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