WA Premier Mark McGowan claimed the state’s environmental watchdog had overstepped its mark with new guidelines aimed at reducing carbon emissions and believes the limitations could deter investors from backing major projects during the next few years.
The EPA said last week that Western Australia is not doing enough to reduce greenhouse gases and is lagging behind the rest of the country. New rules announced on Thursday will force new and expanding projects in the mining and oil industry to meet more stringent emissions targets and greater scrutiny over the processes involved.
Meanwhile, larger projects with emissions in excess of 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide will also need to offset emissions. EPA chairman Tom Hatton said the new requirements will ensure the region helps rather than hinders Australia’s quest to meet targets set out under the Paris agreement.
Dr Hatton added: ‘Our emissions in this state have gone up significantly. There is no political motivation for these guidelines. They come strictly from considerations to protect the West Australian environment.’
Western Australia has struggled to keep greenhouse gas emissions in check since the turn of the millennium with overall levels soaring by 27% between 2000 and 2016. It is also the only Australian jurisdiction to have seen a notable uptick in emissions during that period.
Before the release of last week’s guidelines, EPA warned that LNG projects and other potential proposals could push emissions higher “by a large margin” during the next decade. However, WA Premier, Mr. McGowan believes the rules will have a detrimental impact on the level of investment in the state as they will reduce profits and make investors more cautious about backing projects in the future.
While McGowan recognizes the need for a “national solution” to rising emissions, he was eager to stress that State Government was not yet committed to enacting the guidelines as policy due to the potential knock-on effect for investment. In an interview with ABC Radio Perth, the Premier added that he was “not endorsing” the RPA’s rules.
On the issue of investment, McGowan added: ‘We have had some feedback from some of the major investors that it could impact future projects, and of course I have to create jobs and that is my number one priority. We need to work with them to make sure we get through this issue.’
McGowan’s ire was largely directed at the manner in which WA has been singled out as a problem when the issue of climate change actually requires a consistent approach for both projects and regions across the country. He said environmental problems require national leadership.
McGowan noted: “To just apply this to LNG projects means of course the massive coal exporters in Queensland and NSW get off scot-free whilst the LNG projects, which produce half the emissions of coal from Queensland or NSW, are penalized.’
The sentiment was echoed by WA’s Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CME), who also warned that the new guidelines could put pressure on the already flagging economy. The Chamber’s chief executive, Paul Everingham believes WA could see huge levels of investment go elsewhere as the rules will be viewed as a major risk by investors. Woodchief executive Peter Coleman also claimed the guidelines are “actually unachievable” in their current form.
In contrast, Conversation Council director Piers Verstegen argued that the latest policy could pave the way for a long overdue overhaul of industry and enable new “clean” sectors based on renewable energy, tree planting and restoration of the natural environment to come to the fore. He urged the Federal Government to come up with a national policy to tackle climate change.