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Environmental groups criticize Labor’s EPA as ‘waste of time’

The federal government introduced legislation on Wednesday to create a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but is facing criticism from environmental groups who say it should be accompanied by reforms to environmental law.

The government has described the EPA as a “tough cop”, but environmental groups have said it will be ineffective without urgent reforms to Australia’s outdated environmental laws, especially the Howard-era Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

Last month, Plibersek confirmed that the government’s pledge to reform the country’s environmental laws had been suspended. It is currently unclear whether the reform will be implemented during this government period.

A bill for the EPA, which will act as a national watchdog on environmental laws, has now been introduced to the House of Representatives, alongside a bill for Environment Information Australia, which will provide environmental data to the public. The EPA will be able to issue “stop-work” orders to prevent environmental damage and monitor companies, with the ability to impose fines of up to $780 million.

“Creating the new Environment Protection Agency without fixing our broken national environmental law is like planting seeds in barren ground – a waste of time,” said Dr. Jennifer Raynor, head of Policy and Advocacy at the Climate Council on Wednesday.

“The EPA will apply the same broken law that has passed at least 740 fossil fuel projects to date; the same law that has overseen the clearing of millions of acres of precious habitat. If our national environmental laws are not in place, we will see the same bad decisions advertised on a different letterhead.”

Independent Senator David Pocock said he agreed with Raynor when he wrote of

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young has been highly critical of the government’s approach, saying it was a “terrible day for nature”.

“What’s on the table won’t save our wildlife, won’t stop the logging of native forests and won’t stop the expansion of climate-destroying coal and gas mines,” Hanson-Young said.

“The reason mining companies and environmental groups are furious today is because Labor has caved to the logging and mining lobby who want quicker and easier approval for their destructive projects. Our environment will pay the price.

“Under Australian environmental laws, 740 fossil fuel projects have been approved and millions of hectares of habitat for endangered species have been destroyed. Complying with our current laws is not environmental protection, it is selling out the environment to polluters.”

A joint statement from Lock the Gate Alliance, 350.org and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition also expressed disappointment at the lack of action on environmental protection laws.

“Australia’s environmental laws are not fit for purpose, and the new EPA will be powerless to address the enormous damage caused by greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel projects,” said Carmel Flint, national coordinator of the Lock the Gate Alliance.

“The lack of action means it is ‘business as usual’ for 59 coal and gas expansions currently under review under national environmental laws.”

Grace Vegesana, spokesperson for the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, said most of the organization’s members were not even born when Australia’s current environmental laws were created.

“Ironically, it is our generation that will have to clean up the mess that the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis is already throwing at us,” Vegesana said.

“This EPA law is yet another distraction the Albanian government is using to delay real action on climate change.”

Meanwhile, Lucy Manne, CEO of 350.org, said it is “really terrible” that the government has “walked away” from the major environmental reforms it promised.

“Voters will remember this broken promise at the next election. The Albanian government’s reputation on climate and the environment is in tatters.”

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