Environment Minister Bill Marmion today reaffirmed his backing of the Environmental Protection Authority’s approval of a gas hub in the Kimberley, clearing another hurdle for the contentious project.
The EPA’s decision on the $30 billion development at James Price Point caused a stir in July after it was made by chairman Paul Vogel alone when four fellow board members declared potential conflicts of interest.
Environment Minister Bill Marmion received State Solicitors Office advice that Mr Vogel’s decision was legally sound but used discretion to refer it to an appeals committee, also comprised of one man, Dr Roy Green.
Dr Green spent months assessing the record 250-plus objections to the liquefied natural gas processing hub and made recommendations to Mr Marmion, who released his assessment of them today.
Mr Marmion said nothing in Dr Green’s report led him to doubt the validity of Mr Vogel’s decision.
Dr Green’s recommendations strengthened the environmental conditions placed on the complex project, he said.
“Essentially, I am dismissing some appeals and upholding others,” he said.
“Dr Green investigated 26 grounds of appeal and recommended a number of changes to strengthen the EPA’s draft conditions and add new conditions.”
Mr Marmion said Dr Green, a former head of the CSIRO and former deputy chairman of the EPA, had conducting extensive meetings with objectors in Broome and Perth and telephoned others outside WA and overseas.
“He then spent a further month and a half considering all the issues before submitting the report,” Mr Marmion said.
Mr Marmion will now write to ministerial colleagues overseeing the portfolios of Mines and Petroleum, Transport, Lands and Indigenous Affairs to obtain their opinion on the project before final State Government approval can be granted.
The project also requires Commonwealth approval.
Mr Marmion backed Mr Vogel’s July decision.
“Obviously back when I got the report and I found out there was some conflicted people I did get some legal advice, and it was good advice,” he said.
“The advice I got made me very confident that the process we’ve gone through is very sound and I have complete confidence in Mr Vogel’s decision.”
Warren Greatorex, chairman of the Waardi Ltd entity set up by traditional owners to manage the $1.5 billion benefits package to flow from the project, welcomed Mr Marmion’s determination of the appeals.
Mr Greatorex said traditional owners of Jabirr Jabirr country were pleased with Mr Marmion’s decision to agree to increasing their involvement and native title claimants in the development of a range of environmental management plans.
“We also welcome any strengthening of the conditions to protect the environment in relation to the proposed site, he said.
But Wilderness Society WA co-ordinator Peter Robertson branded Mr Marmion’s appeals assessment as “pathetic and irresponsible”.
He said Dr Green’s recommendation, and Mr Marmion’s acceptance, that more studies should be carried out on the project’s impact on sea life, demonstrated that Mr Vogel was not rigorous enough.
He predicted that Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke would reject the “failed WA assessment” and call for new studies prior to giving Commonwealth approval.
Environs Kimberley director Martin Pritchard said: “Let’s face it the State Environment Minister was never going to say that the proposal was environmentally unacceptable.
“He would have been committing political suicide if he did because the Premier, who is also the Minister for State Development, is the proponent for the project.
“This is purely a political decision, it’s not a decision based on science.”