The Morrison government has criticised as “unworkable” a plan by Western Australia’s environment watchdog to impose tougher measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions from large projects.
The state’s environmental protection authority, which works independently as an adviser to the WA government on environmental approvals, published new guidelines this week that would require developers of projects with direct emissions of more than 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per annum to demonstrate they have taken all reasonable steps to reduce or avoid emissions.
They will also have to offset all net direct emissions associated with the project.
The guidelines would apply to new projects or to previously approved proposals that have been referred back to the EPA for reconsideration.
The WA EPA has made the move in part because federal policy has failed to get Australia on track to meet its emissions reductions obligations under the Paris agreement.
But some industry groups and businesses have criticised the plan and on Friday, the federal government said it could “jeopardise” large projects.
“The alarm being felt by businesses over the West Australian Environmental Protection Agency’s unworkable proposal to jeopardise large-scale projects that are vital to our economy, only serves to underline wider business concerns about Federal Labor’s reckless approach,” said the environment minister, and WA-based MP, Melissa Price.
“It’s time for Labor to be up front with business and the Australian people by explaining how it hopes to achieve a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030.”
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, said federal Labor’s own plans for an national independent environmental authority were a “threat”.
“This is actually what Bill Shorten wants to do across the entire country and [WA Premier] Mark McGowan may well see sense on this issue but I can assure you that Bill Shorten won’t,” he said.
“What Bill Shorten is seeking to do with his own environmental agency is to writ large what the threat has been here with these types of changes that have been mooted the last few days.”
But other groups have called for calm over the WA EPA’s guidelines.
On Friday, the chamber of minerals and energy of Western Australiawarned industry had strong reservations about the imposition of 100% offset requirements for direct emissions.
However, the Australia Institute pointed out that the EPA’s guidelines were not unprecedented.
“The WA EPA is acting with a cool head, not a passionate heart, as the prime minister recommends and has found a practical, cost-effective way for the LNG industry to cover its climate costs,” the institute’s climate and energy program director, Richie Merzian said.
“The WA policy guidelines are not unexpected, not ground-breaking and not without precedent. An NT government commissioned independent panel recommend a similar offset policy just last year.”
According to ABS census data, gas-related industries account for about 1% of WA’s workforce.
Merzian said that as a highly profitable industry, the LNG industry was capable of paying for the pollution it produced and that many businesses had already factored some sort of shadow carbon cost into their accounting and decision making.
AGL, for example, has adopted an internal carbon price of $12.50 per tonne of carbon dioxide. Other companies, such South32 and Wesfarmers, are using a range of carbon prices that increase over time.
Last year, a survey of businesses by the Carbon Market Institute found 92% agreed Australia’s current federal policies were insufficient to meet Australia’s Paris target to reduce emissions by 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2030.
The survey also found that 82% of respondents said market mechanisms requiring stronger compliance from emitters to purchase carbon abatement were required.
Comment was sought from Labor.