Offsetting under the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)
Offsetting is an important part of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). It quantifies how much ‘compensation’ is required for residual significant impact to a component of the environment (i.e. habitat for a threatened species) and is considered at the stage of a decision being made to approve a project. This raises two important points. Firstly, an impact assessment must demonstrate that all avoidance and mitigation measures have been taken in the first instance to reduce the impact as much as possible, before consideration of the offset takes place. Secondly, an offset won’t be considered at the Referral stage of a project – that is, it is effectively irrelevant whether an offset is required at the referral stage because if there is a high probability of likely of significant impact (to a Matter of National Environmental Significance), then a formal EIA process is likely required.
Offsets under the EPBC Act are determined by using a calculator / balance sheet approach. Required offsets under the EPBC Act need to meet eight principals to demonstrate suitability. These are outlined in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 Environmental Offsets Policy (http://www.environment.gov.au/epbc/publications/epbc-act-environmental-offsets-policy). Offsets can be ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’ (termed ‘other compensatory measures’ in the EPBC Act Offsets Policy), representing a 90% / 10 % split of the total compensation required, respectively. ‘Advanced’ offsets can also be factored into a project where it is expected that a project/s will require offsetting at a later stage.
Lastly, there are numerous mechanisms that exist for delivering offsets. It is important to undertake a detailed analysis of the options for each project to ensure approval conditions can be met.
Offsetting under Northern Territory legislation
Essentially, there is no imposition for offsetting under the NT’s Environment Assessment Act (EA Act), and the NT EPA does not require offsets in their recommendations for project approval. However, there is some scope for offsetting (known as ‘benefits’) in the NT’s Mining Management Act (MM Act) and Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act and Native Title Act. Guidelines for offsetting under Territory legislation are found at https://ntepa.nt.gov.au/environmental-assessments/env-assessment-guidelines.
If offsets are required under one or more of these Acts, it is logical and important to develop an offsets package where each requirement interacts effectively with another. That is, a coordinated package with interlinked actions is likely to be more effective and efficient for the beneficiary.
What we can do for you
Our capabilities in offsetting are based on first hand experiences with Environmental Impact Assessments, qualifying and quantifying offsets, and preparing management and monitoring programs. We understand the legislation and various regulatory policies and determine informed, logical and appropriate offsets for your project. We think that early consideration of offsets will lead to more effective outcomes for your project and the environment because it gives ample time for adequate preparation to implement an offset, as well as increases regulatory agency confidence, which should reduce assessment time frames and get you on the ground faster.
Mihkel Proos, our Principal Environmental Consultant, has extensive experience with determining and calculating offsets under the EPBC Act during his role with the (then) Department of the Environment in their Environment Assessment and Compliance Division.
In his environmental consultancy roles, he has also negotiated, developed and implemented offset strategies and management plans for clients in the NT.