Environmental obligations and duties

In the Northern Territory, the Environment Protection Act 2019 and Waste Management and Pollution Control Act 1998 legislate obligations and duties to prevent environmental harm, environmental nuisance and contamination.

The two primary duties that apply to everyone in the Northern Territory are:

  • general environmental duty – which means a person must not carry out any activity that causes or is likely to cause environmental harm, unless measures to prevent or minimise the harm have been taken; and
  • duty to notify of environmental harm – to inform the administering authority and landowner or occupier when an incident has occurred that may have caused or threatens serious or material environmental harm.

In addition to the above, when planning a development proposal or strategic proposal, a proponent has a duty to refer the proposal to the NT EPA for environmental impact assessment, if the proposal may have a significant impact on the environment.

What is general environmental duty

The Act states that we all have a general environmental duty. This means that we are all responsible for the actions we take that affect the environment.

We must not carry out any activity that causes or is likely to cause environmental harm unless we take all reasonable and practicable measures to prevent or minimise the harm.

For example, we must not cause oil and other wastes to enter a stormwater drain, or cause unreasonable noise.

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 successful are different measures likely to be in preventing or minimising environmental harm?
  • financial implications of taking different measures – for example, will taking certain prevention measures instead of others mean your activity is not commercially viable?

There is no specific offence for failing to fulfil your general environmental duty, however if you cause environmental harm, and fail in your general environmental duty, there are enforcement tools that may be used to bring you into compliance with the Act. These enforcement tools, outlined further in the compliance guidelines, include issuing an authorised officer direction and clean-up notices.

Duty to notify of environmental incidents

The duty to notify of environmental harm is a legal requirement that ensures that the administering authority and other relevant persons are made aware of incidents that may have caused or threaten serious or material environmental harm.

You must notify the NT EPA if you are undertaking an activity and an incident occurs which causes, or threatens to cause, pollution resulting in material or serious environmental harm. We call this a Section 14 Incident Report.

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