Publications archive

Department of the Environment and Heritage annual report 2004-05

Volume one
Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2005
ISSN 1441 9335

Outcome 1 - Environment (continued)

Air pollution

The Department of the Environment and Heritage contributes to improving and protecting the air quality in Australia's cities and towns, and contributes to the international effort to restore the Earth's protective ozone layer.

Main responsibilities relevant to this output

Policy Coordination and Environment Protection Division

Objectives

Main results

Improving air quality

National air quality trends

Australians consistently rank air pollution as a major environmental concern. The department works with other government agencies and industry to reduce emissions of major pollutants, by tackling the major sources of air pollution, including motor vehicles, woodheaters and industry.

As a result of these collaborative efforts, the levels of the major pollutants in Australian cities are generally lower than those found in comparable overseas cities (Australia State of the Environment 2001 report). Of the major pollutants, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and lead are continuing to decline in Australia’s major cities. However, particle and ozone levels show no obvious downward trend and are still a major concern in some cities.

To improve access to national air quality data and enable a better assessment of air quality in Australia, the department undertook considerable developmental work on a national air quality database during 2004–05. This work built on the existing database developed for the department’s State of the Air report on air quality trends in Australia over the period 1991–2001 (www.deh.gov.au/atmosphere/airquality/publications/status), which was released in April 2004. The new database will be established in 2005–06 and will provide for the regular updating of air quality data across Australia.

National air quality standards

The department works with other government agencies through the Environment Protection and Heritage Council (a council of government ministers responsible for environment and heritage protection matters) to establish and further develop the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure. This measure includes national benchmarks, such as standards or guidelines, for specified air pollutants that ensure all Australian communities receive adequate protection from the harmful effects of air pollution.

Reviewing the ambient air quality standards

The National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure was established in 1998 and set acceptable levels for the six common pollutants: particles, ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. These levels are to be met in all states and territories by 2008.

During 2004–05 the department contributed to a number of reviews of these standards to ensure that they remain at the forefront of air quality protection around the world.

In October 2004 a review was completed that examined whether to include a standard within the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure to protect against short-term (that is, 10-minute) exposures to sulfur dioxide, mainly from industrial point sources such as smelters. The Environment Protection and Heritage Council concluded that the introduction of such a standard was outside the scope of the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure and it would consider other options to establish an appropriate benchmark.

A full review of the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure, starting with the development of an issues scoping paper, commenced in April 2005. This review will assess the effectiveness and appropriateness of the measure and is scheduled to conclude in 2008. The review may lead to the variation of National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure standards and monitoring methods.

To prepare for this full review the department worked with states and territories on a preliminary review of the ozone standards in the measure. An issues paper was released for comment on 6 June 2005 (see www.ephc.gov.au/nepms/air/air_nepm_ozone_review.html).

National standards for air toxic pollutants

In December 2004 a new national environment protection measure was established by the National Environment Protection Council (part of the Environment Protection and Heritage Council). The new National Environment Protection (Air Toxics) Measure sets ‘monitoring investigation levels’ for five air toxic pollutants: benzene, formaldehyde, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, toluene and xylenes. The levels set in the new measure are not mandatory and are designed to facilitate the future development of air quality standards for these pollutants through the collection of monitoring data. However, if monitoring investigation levels are exceeded, relevant governments are required to investigate further.

Australians are exposed to other air toxic pollutants at levels which, given certain circumstances, may be of health concern. During 2004–05 the department commenced work with states and territories to develop a method for identifying and ranking other toxins that could be included in a future variation to the National Environment Protection (Air Toxics) Measure. This developmental work will be completed in late 2005.

Managing woodsmoke pollution
View of the Launceston airshed

View of the Launceston airshed driving in from the freeway

Photo: Jim Markos (reproduced with permission)

Smoke from woodheaters is a major source of urban air pollution in some areas in winter. The department administers programmes to reduce air pollution from woodheaters and other sources of woodsmoke.

The Australian Government has already completed work to target woodsmoke pollution in Launceston, which has the worst woodsmoke problem of any city in Australia.

In the 2005–06 Budget the government allocated an additional $1 million over three years (2005–2008) for the Launceston Clean Air Industry Programme. During 2004–05 the department undertook the detailed scoping and design work of the programme for the launch in July 2005. Building on the success of the government’s previous programme, the
new programme will provide incentives for industries in the Tamar Valley area to change their technologies or processes to reduce particle emissions.

The National Woodheater Audit Programme, administered by the department between 2003 and 2004, found that most of the woodheater models tested failed to comply with the national standard for particle emissions from woodheaters. The programme revealed shortcomings in manufacturing and certification procedures for woodheaters.

As part of a combined government and industry response the department is developing a certification procedure to significantly improve the compliance of woodheaters available for retail sale with Australian standards. The department is also in the process of making details of woodheater performance available to the public through the Environment Protection and Heritage Council web site (www.ephc.gov.au). This will allow consumers to consider the environmental impacts of various models when purchasing a woodheater.

The department, along with state and territory agencies, is contributing towards the costs of an expanded audit programme to test all woodheater models over two years. The audit is being carried out, on behalf of participating governments, by the Australian Home Heating Association, who are also contributing to the costs of the programme. The programme started in September 2004. Woodheaters found to be non-compliant in this audit will have their certification suspended, which will make them illegal for retail sale in most states and territories.

Indoor air quality

The department is investigating ways to improve indoor air quality in non-industrial locations. A workshop of health experts that met from 2–3 December 2004 identified priorities for action and further investigation, including priority indoor pollutants (nitrogen oxides, formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds and ozone). Consultations with industry and community groups are to be undertaken to help identify possible actions to improve indoor air quality.

Cycle Connect

The $2.4 million Cycle Connect grants programme promotes cycling as a way of reducing air pollution in cities. The programme pays for secure bicycle parking facilities at city bus and train stations, addressing one of the barriers to cycling in highly built up areas.

The programme’s first round of funding supported six projects with 2004–05 expenditure totalling $0.9 million. Grants were paid to install 1 200 lockers and cage spaces in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide; 20 lockers in Bendigo; and a secure cage to house over 100 bicycles at the Fremantle railway station.

The programme increased the capacity of bicycle locker storage by targeting areas of high demand, and improved management of existing storage schemes.

In 2005–06 $1.2 million will be available for grants under the programme’s second round.

Vehicle emission and fuel standards

Motor vehicles are the largest contributor to urban air pollution in Australia and have a major influence on the incidence of smog and haze. To reduce motor vehicle pollution the Australian Government has introduced national fuel quality standards and is improving emissions standards for cars, buses and trucks. Harmonisation with European emissions and fuel standards is predicted to reduce the emissions of some pollutants by up to 60 per cent over a 20-year period from 2000. The standards are contributing to improved environmental and health outcomes. It is estimated that from 2000 to 2019 avoided health costs will amount to more than $3.4 billion. The standards also pave the way for new and cleaner vehicle technologies, which will bring fuel consumption benefits.

The emission standards are being implemented by the Department of Transport and Regional Services, with progressive improvements set to continue until 2010.

The Department of the Environment and Heritage administers the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000. Standards currently apply to the quality of petrol, diesel, biodiesel and autogas sold in Australia. The department is developing new quality standards for diesohol and ethanol.

During the year the government tightened existing limits for a number of key parameters regulated under the petrol and diesel standards, and introduced new limits. From 1 January 2005:

Limits for a number of parameters under the biodiesel standard also came into force on 18 September 2004 including limits relating to glycerol, metals, alcohol, total contamination, cetane number, and oxidation stability. The biodiesel standard will ensure that quality fuel is supplied to the marketplace, ensuring vehicle operability and emissions outcomes.

The Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 was reviewed during the year. The review concluded that the overall policy objectives of the Act are being met and should not be altered, but recommended that a number of issues should be addressed to facilitate nationally consistent standards, strengthen the monitoring, compliance and enforcement programme, and simplify administration of the Act, in particular the current approvals system for variations to standards.

A full report on the operation of the Act including details of the outcomes of the review appears in the second volume of this set of annual reports.

Reducing diesel emissions

As part of the Australian Government’s Measures for a Better Environment programme the department supports in-service emissions testing for diesel and petrol vehicles through funding agreements with the states and territories. Funding agreements have been entered into with the Roads and Traffic Authority of New South Wales, the Brisbane City Council and the South Australian Department of Transport and Urban Planning. During the year the department signed similar agreements with the Western Australian Department of the Environment ($2.3 million over three years) and the Environment Protection Authority Victoria ($4.7 million over three years). Negotiations are currently under way with Tasmania.

The diesel emissions testing must be connected with the implementation of the National Environment Protection (Diesel Vehicle Emissions) Measure. The goal of this measure is to reduce exhaust emissions from diesel vehicles consistent with emissions standards. Developing in-service emission testing facilities helps to promote compliance with the standards.

The facilities will also help heavy vehicle users claim conditional excise credits for diesel. The Australian Government’s energy white paper Securing Australia’s Energy Future announced the introduction from 1 July 2006 of conditional excise credits for users of heavy diesel vehicles who can demonstrate that their vehicle is not a high polluter. One of the five permissible criteria for eligibility is to pass the in-service emission standard referred to in the National Environment Protection (Diesel Vehicle Emissions) Measure.

Ozone layer protection

Some chemicals used by industry for applications such as refrigeration, air conditioning, foam production and fire protection deplete the Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer. Ozone depletion allows biologically harmful ultra-violet rays to reach the Earth’s surface. Under the Montreal Protocol to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer countries have agreed on dates for phasing out ozone depleting substances. As understanding of ozone depletion has improved, countries have added to the list of controlled substances and brought forward the phase-out dates, most recently through the Beijing Amendment to the Montreal Protocol.

Although experts predict the ozone layer will recover, this will only be achieved by full compliance with the Montreal Protocol. Australia accounts for less than 1 per cent of the global emissions of ozone depleting substances. The single most effective way to protect the ozone layer over Australia is to secure global compliance with the protocol.

The department represents Australia on the protocol’s Implementation Committee, which works to promote compliance. Australia also contributes funding through AusAID to the protocol’s Multilateral Fund. This fund aims to help developing countries comply with the protocol. Significant reduction targets began to apply to developing countries in 2005. As part of its contribution to the fund the department manages projects to help phase out ozone depleting substances in neighbouring countries.

To phase out the use of ozone depleting substances in Australia the department implements the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989. The Act controls the supply (import, export and manufacture) and use of ozone depleting substances and certain greenhouse gases through a licensing system.

Imports of ozone depleting substances (1997–present)

Total imports in 2004 = 296.6 tonnes

imports of ozone depleting substances 1997-present

Data is updated by calendar year.

There is no domestic manufacture of ozone depleting substances, hence the overall decline in imports since 1999 (chart above) indicates that Australia’s net consumption of ozone depleting substances is reducing over time. The department’s regulation of imports consistently exceeds Australia’s obligations under the Montreal Protocol (upper line in the chart).

The Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989 establishes the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Account, which is funded from levies and licence fees. The department uses this account to pay for administration of the Act and related projects, including the National Halon Bank which collects halon for disposal or reuse. Other projects include the preliminary work for the establishment of the refrigeration and air conditioning board and fire protection industry board. The latter is developing and codifying competencies to implement a licensing system for technicians. These projects are funded under the Australian Government’s Measures for a Better Environment programme to give technicians the skills and experience to minimise emissions of environmentally harmful substances when they install and service equipment.

Approximately 350 tonnes of ozone depleting substances were destroyed at the National Halon Bank. This amount included destruction of 320 tonnes of refrigerant recovered through Refrigerant Reclaim, Australia’s industry based product stewardship scheme; four tonnes of halons and chlorofluorocarbons imported for destruction from New Zealand by DASCEM Pty Ltd; and 16 tonnes of contaminated halon and refrigerants collected for destruction by the Australian Government.

A full report on the operation of the Act appears in the second volume of this set of annual reports, including progress in developing new Regulations and in ratifying the Beijing Amendment.

Industries that use or have used ozone depleting substances often replace them with synthetic greenhouse gases that could contribute to global warming. The department is working with the United States and New Zealand under the Climate Action Partnerships programme to develop ways to manage refrigerant gases with a high potential to increase global warming, in particular hydrofluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride.

The department also works to minimise emissions of synthetic greenhouse gases other than those covered by the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989. Projects include developing sulfur hexafluoride handling guidelines for the electricity supply industry, and developing an alternative cover gas for magnesium production.

See also: effects of ozone depletion.

Results for performance indicators
Performance indicator 2004–05 results
Programme administration
Cycle Connect

Number of projects or activities approved under each programme

6 projects

Degree to which projects, activities, agreements or plans contribute to the output

High—increased bicycle storage capacity, targeted areas of high demand and improved management

Air Quality Management

Number of projects or activities approved under each programme

4 projects

Degree to which projects, activities, agreements or plans contribute to the output

High—provided information used to inform the design of a national air quality database, the Launceston Clean Air Industry Programme and a new approach to woodheater emission standards

Both programmes

Accurate and timely approval, payment and acquittal of grants in accordance with legislation and guidelines

Grants disbursed subject to achievement of funding agreement milestones

Accurate and timely payment of monies

Correct invoices paid promptly

Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Account (Administered item)

The Australian Government’s obligations under the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989 are met, including effective administration of the Act, management of the Halon Bank, and programmes to phase out ozone depleting substances and minimise emissions of ozone depleting substances and synthetic greenhouse gas

All obligations met. Halon stocks were managed to ensure availability of strategic reserves for 30 years, with excess quantities collected from the community for destruction. Phase-out and emission minimisation programmes focused on implementation of Regulations controlling the sale, purchase, use, storage and destruction of ozone depleting substances in the fire protection and refrigeration and air industries. See also: report on the operation of the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989 in the second volume of this set of annual reports.

Licence and enforcement actions are undertaken within statutory timeframes, supplies of essential use halon are provided within the requested timeframe and number of facility inspections meets local ordinance requirements, and a phase-out and emission minimisation programme is commenced

All enforcement actions, including remedial measures, were undertaken in accordance with the compliance and enforcement plan. Re licensing: see ‘statutory administration’ below. All halon requests were met within the requested delivery timeframe. Halon Bank facility inspections indicated the bank was operating within its licence requirements and meeting all local ordinance requirements.

Statutory administration

Extent to which statutory timeframes are met under legislation

High—all permit applications were processed within statutory timeframes

Number of permits or applications considered (granted and refused) under legislation

138 licences granted (no refusals) under the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989 (see also: report on the operation of this Act in the second volume of this set of annual reports)

15 licences granted (no refusals) under the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 (see also: report on the operation of this Act in the second volume of this set of annual reports)

Extent to which stakeholders meet legislative requirements

High—all enforcement actions, including remedial measures, undertaken in accordance with the compliance and enforcement plan

International

Percentage of written pre-meeting objectives at international meetings achieved

100%

Extent to which Australia’s strategic objectives are achieved through international forums

High—All cables from delegations indicated that Australia’s objectives were achieved.

Stakeholder awareness

Information and education products distributed to stakeholders (measured by web site hits, information material distributed, etc)

Various air pollutant fact sheets published
(see www.deh.gov.au/atmosphere/publications)

Average of 16 347 user sessions per month to the atmosphere-related part of the department’s web site

Research, analysis and evaluation

Number of research reports, articles and papers prepared and publicly released

1 report on unflued gas appliances and air quality in Australia

Other annual reports - more detailed results

Annual report on the operation of the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989 included in the second volume of this set of annual reports

Annual report on the operation of the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 included in the second volume of this set of annual reports

Legislation

Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000
National Environment Protection Council Act 1994
National Environment Protection Measures (Implementation) Act 1998
Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989
Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Act 1995
Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Act 1995

Resources
Element of pricing Budget prices (1) $’000 Actual expenses $’000
Departmental outputs
Output 1.1: Atmosphere 14 723 14 087
Administered items

Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Account

2 870 2 209
Prices are the estimated full-year revenues for departmental outputs and full-year expenses for administered items that are shown in the 2004–05 portfolio additional estimates statements.

See also: summary resource tables.

1 Coffey's Geoscience Pty Ltd, Review of Fuel Quality Requirements for Australian Transport (2000), Chapter 6.

2 Setting National Fuel Quality Standards, Paper 1, Summary Report of the Review of Fuel Quality Requirements for Australian Transport (2000), pages 149-153.