Meeting environmental obligations and duties

You and your business have a legal duty to meet general environmental protection obligations that apply to all businesses and citizens in Queensland.

The Environmental Protection Act 1994 lists obligations and offences to prevent environmental harm, nuisances and contamination.

The 2 primary duties that apply to everyone in Queensland are the:

  • general environmental duty – not to carry out an activity that may cause harm without taking measures to prevent or minimise the harm
  • duty to notify of environmental harm – to inform the relevant authority and landowners when environmental harm has occurred, or might occur.

If you hold an environmental authority (EA) for an environmentally relevant activity (ERA), you must meet these general environmental obligations in addition to your EA conditions.

You can find industry codes of practice developed to help businesses comply with their general environmental duty for a range of activities, including ERAs.

General environmental duty (GED)

To decide how to meet your general environmental duty, you need to think about the:

  • nature of the harm or potential harm – for example, how severe is the potential environmental harm?
  • sensitivity of the environment you are operating in – for example, are you operating near a protected area, waterway or sensitive habitat?
  • current state of technical knowledge for the activity – for example, what is the current best practice for the activity?
  • likelihood of possible measures being successful – for example, how likely are different measures to successfully prevent or minimise environmental harm?
  • financial implications of taking different measures – for example, will taking certain prevention measures rather than others mean your activity is not commercially viable?

As of 1 July 2023 GED will also include a separate and distinct scenario regarding chemical use, storage, handling and disposal in support of the national Industrial Chemicals Environmental Management Standard (IChEMS) framework.

Read more about the GED changes.

Duty to notify of environmental harm

If you see or cause an incident that results in or threatens serious or material environmental harm, it is your duty to report it quickly. If you cause an incident you must take action to prevent or minimise the harm and report it, in some cases within 24 hours of becoming aware.

Read more about serious or material environmental harm, including changes to environmental harm thresholds.

As an operator of a business, read the duty to notify guideline and form for details of:

  • when the duty to notify applies
  • giving written notice to the department (as the administering authority)
  • who to notify and how to inform them.

Penalties for causing environmental harm

If you cause environmental harm, the administering authority can take steps to make sure you comply with the law.

If you can demonstrate that when the environmental harm occurred, you were meeting the general environmental duty, you can use this as a defence.

The administering authority can take a range of actions to encourage compliance with the law before it has to resort to prosecution. These include:

  • issuing direction and clean-up notices and environmental protection orders
  • requiring an environmental investigation to determine the extent of the impact which the administering authority may use to direct you to monitor your impacts
  • issuing penalty infringement notices.

In serious cases, you can be prosecuted under the Environmental Protection Act 1994.

Learn more about compliance guidelines – investigation and enforcement.

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