People who bear pollution burden want a say in decision-making

The results are in from EJA’s community survey about the Victorian Environment Protection Authority and pollution law reform.

What are the big issues on people’s minds?

This word cloud gives you a bit of an idea of some of the big concerns. Air pollution, vehicle pollution, landfill and waste disposal problems and pollution of creeks, streams and rivers.

We asked people for their views on the major reforms the state government is making to Victoria’s environment protection regime.

The № 1 message that emerged from our survey was that people want to be involved in decision-making and want the EPA to be held to account for its actions.

People care very deeply about the environment that surrounds them – the air they breathe, the water they drink, the nature they enjoy for recreation, relaxation and rejuvenation.  

The community wants the EPA and our environment protection laws to be the first line of defence against harm.

In short, people want the EPA and the law to do their job.

The survey showed people want:

  • Stronger enforcement powers for the EPA (and the resources and will to use them)
  • The Environment Protection Act to require the EPA to make human health a priority in decision-making
  • Community rights (third-party enforcement rights) to take enforcement action against polluters if the EPA can’t or won’t.

The Government has said it is committed to implementing environmental justice into decision-making across all levels of government.

EJA believes this means environmental benefits and harms must be distributed evenly – everyone has an equal right to be involved in decision-making about their environment.

Environmental justice cannot be achieved if communities have no right to be involved in decision-making; or in knowing what pollutants are being released into their environment; or in preventing the pollution of their communities.

The principle is essentially quite simple. People who bear the burden of pollution should be able to question decisions that force that burden on them – and to have those decisions reviewed.

The reforms promised by the government will be really important and beneficial if done well. But if the Victorian Government is to achieve its commitment to environmental justice, the law must provide for community members to take action where the EPA cannot or does not.

Just about every other state and territory in Australia has this enforcement right – and it has been used wisely and well – so why, in 2017, is the Victorian Government still reluctant?

There can be a big gulf between what pollution/noise/odour/health impacts the EPA thinks is acceptable for a community to tolerate, and what the community thinks is acceptable.

Environmental justice means empowering and allowing the community to be part of decision-making.

Ultimately, laws that embed environmental justice should put pressure on companies to reduce their pollution, force them to invest in cleaner practices and technologies and create new products that don’t shift the pollution burden onto any part of the community or environment.

Our full analysis of survey results is here.

We will brief the Government on the detailed survey results.

 


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