The Barnett Government has been forced to draft emergency legislation to protect a raft of environmental approvals after bungling by the Environmental Protection Authority’s handling of conflict of interest issues.
In a torrid press conference in West Perth this morning, Environment Minister Albert Jacob revealed that approvals for 25 projects granted between 2002 and 2012 may have been unlawful.
Mr Jacob would not say which projects were affected, stressing that a full list of them would be tabled in State Parliament later today.
However in a release to the Australian Securities Exchange this morning, Fortescue Metals Group revealed its Solomon iron ore project was one of the projects affected.
As part of a bid to circumvent possible legal challenges to the projects’ approvals, Mr Jacob said the Government would now seek to rewrite the EPA’s legislation to retrospectively “validate” them.
At the heart of the issue is the advice given by the Environmental Protection Authority – which invariably formed the basis for final Government approvals – that may have been tainted.
EPA chairman Paul Vogel admitted that in all 25 cases board members of the regulator may have had conflicts of interest while they were deliberating on projects.
These conflicts could have included share interests in the companies that were the subject of deliberations.
The backlog of potentially conflicted cases was discovered following the shock decision by Chief Justice Wayne Martin last year to strike down environment approvals for the Browse Basin gas hub in the Kimberley.
At the time, Justice Martin said the EPA’s recommendations on the project had been unacceptably compromised by conflicts of interest on its board.
Mr Jacob admitted he was “very disappointed” with the situation but stood by Dr Vogel, insisting he was not about to sack him.
“I have full confidence in the Environmental Protection Authority board and very good confidence in the chairman,” Mr Jacob said.
“And I also have very good confidences in our environmental processes.
“This was not a deliberate oversight.
“We have conducted a thorough review and there is nothing to indicate anyone sought personal gain.”
Dr Vogel refused to resign, saying he wanted to “help” the Minister in fixing the problems.
“I hope that the public accepts that this was technical error in governance,” Dr Vogel said.
Fortescue Metals Group chief executive Nev Power, who was informed of the State's decision last night, described the move as a "decisive action" that would provide certainty.
"We are assured that the State is taking all appropriate steps to remove any risk so as to provide investment certainty for WA projects which might be affected," the company said.
FMG's Solomon iron ore mine was one of the 25 affected projects, but the company did not foresee any risk to its operation “at this time”.
The full list of the 25 projects
Jimblebar Iron Ore Project
Jinidi Iron Ore Mine
Macedon Gas Development
Marillana Creek (Yandi) Life of Mine Proposal
Orebody 24/25 Upgrade Proposal
Port Hedland Outer Harbour Development
Railway Deviation through Chichester Ranges
Wheelarra Hill Iron Ore Mine Extension
Wheelarra Hill Iron Ore Mine Modification Main Roads WA
Main Roads WA
Roe Highway Stage 8 extension
CSBP Limited (Wesfarmers)
Ammonium Nitrate Production Expansion Project Phase 2
Fortescue Metals Group
Solomon Iron Ore Project
James Point Pty Ltd (BGC)
James Point Stage II Port Development
Rio Tinto Iron Ore
Brockman Iron Ore Mine Extension Phase 2B
Cape Lambert to Emu Siding Rail Duplication
Cape Lambert Port B Development
Hamersley Agriculture Project
Hope Downs Iron Ore Mine Statement 584
Marandoo Mine Phase 2
Nammuldi Silvergrass Expansion Project
Cape Lambert Port B – Review of Conditions
Turee Syncline Iron Ore Porject
Yandicoogina Junction South West & Oxbrow Iron Ore Project
Univesity of WA
Residential Subdivision, Underwood Avenue Shenton Park
Pluto LNG Proposal – Review of Conditions