SA Mines and Energy Journal : April-May 2010
APRIL/MAY 2010 SA MINES & ENERGY JOURNAL 22 SUSTAINABILITY The resources industry is increasingly taking responsibility for environmental issues above and beyond what is required by regulations. Resource companies often have particular knowledge of the areas in which they operate and this enables them to develop effective measures to minimise their environmental footprint or offset their impact. Yet government programs for natural resource management don't always take this expertise into account, so opportunities for greater involvement by resource companies go begging. Regulations require resources companies to ensure significant and additional environmental benefits as part of the right to use the state's mineral and energy resources. For instance, clearance of native vegetation requires a Significant Environmental Benefit (SEB) to offset the impact. SEBs for clearances may be direct, on-ground projects or payment into the Native Vegetation Fund, administered by the Native Vegetation Council (NVC), the statutory body that provides strategic policy to the Minister on native vegetation management. For a resources company to access and use underground or surface water resources in prescribed areas, it must be allocated a water access entitlement. The Natural Resources Management (NRM) Act authorises NRM Boards to charge a levy on water entitlement holders (a water levy) to contribute to NRM objectives in a region. A charge for water use to contribute to the resource's management is appropriate, but the South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy is concerned about the heavy reliance on the resources industry and inequities in how this is managed. The growth in the resources industry in the far north of South Australia has seen the industry become a major funder of NRM through the water levy. In fact, the South Australian Arid Lands Board, which administers NRM in the far north, relies on industry funding to fulfil its programs. Industry funding of NRM will only increase as the sector expands operations in this and other regions. Given the substantial and growing role of the resources industry, it is important it does not become viewed as the only means of funding the management of natural resources. SACOME believes contributions to the management of natural resources should be shared equitably between all water users, yet the Act exempts some heavy users. The reliance on one industry for secure funding of NRM is problematic, especially because activity in the resources industry fluctuates as projects come and go, meaning the funds available for NRM also fluctuate. Irrespective of the presence of mining companies, the Government has the primary responsibility for managing natural resources in the long term. Perhaps the greatest problem with NRM is the exclusion of the resources industry as a stakeholder. The resources industry is conspicuously absent from the Native Vegetation Council and the NRM Council, yet the peak bodies for farmers, the environment and local government all have a seat at the table. SACOME believes the resources industry is a legitimate stakeholder and needs to be included to make a contribution at policy level. While the NRM Act, NRM Council and boards need to recognise the resources industry and improve engagement with it, the industry also has opportunities to be more engaged in NRM at a policy level and on the ground. The same applies to Significant Economic Benefit requirements under the Native Vegetation Act, where the industry can take a greater role either through direct on-ground projects or funding projects by third parties to undertake the on-ground works. Paying into a fund is straightforward, but resources companies often miss this chance to use their local knowledge of the area in which they are working to develop environmental benefits locally. The resources industry contains a wide range of the skills, knowledge and practical experience required for membership on the NRM Council. For the resources industry to have greater control and scrutiny over how its SEBs and water levies are invested, and to influence the direction, funding and planning of natural resources management more broadly in South Australia, it must take on a greater role through the NRM Council and Native Vegetation Council. There is much to be gained environmentally by greater involvement between government agencies and resource companies. Natural role for industry The resources industry has more to offer in the management of natural resources, writes Dr Nigel Long, SACOME Director Environment and Sustainability. Native vegetation is protected under the Natural Resources Management Act.