Laws to let mines pay to acquit environmental obligations

MINERS in Queensland could soon be able to pay the state government to "acquit" their environmental offset obligations, under state legislation before a parliamentary committee.

The new laws were introduced in Queensland Parliament by Environment Minister Andrew Powell in February, and make a raft of changes to environmental offsets and the state's regulatory regime.

If passed, the changes will see five different offset policies become a single document, and will allow the Abbott Government to sign off on Queensland's new offset policy as a replacement for Commonwealth oversight.

But the laws also allow project proponents, after their development has been approved, to pay the state government a fee to remove their obligation to provide offsets for any environmental damage the project may cause.

"The bill introduces a financial settlement offset which allows proponents to acquit their offset obligations post-approval, by paying a calculated sum of money to an offsets account," the bill's explanatory notes read.

Notes for the bill said the change removed the proponents' obligation of "delivering, managing and monitoring an environmental offset over time".

Funds obtained by the state through the "offsets account" would then be re-invested into "on-ground offsets that benefit the matter impacted by development".

The offsets are commonly used by regulators to set aside valuable environmental areas from damage, if a mine or development is likely to damage another area within its footprint.

But offsets around the nation are set to come under increasing scrutiny in coming months, with federal Labor and The Greens joining efforts this week to establish a Senate inquiry into such policies.

While conservationists have questioned the ability of offsets to achieve their aims, the Minerals Council hit out at the proposed inquiry on Wednesday.

MCA chief executive Brendan Pearson said the inquiry was a "waste of the Senate's time, energy and resources".

He said despite inconsistencies between state and federal offset laws, the problem would not be fixed by "another pointless Greens-sponsored Senate inquiry".

As part of a broader policy remit, the Senate inquiry will also specifically focus on the effectiveness of offsets in five major developments, including the QGC Curtis Island LNG project and Clive Palmer's Waratah Coal mine.

The Senate inquiry is due to be completed in June, while the state parliamentary inquiry will report to the Queensland Parliament by late April.

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