Gunns Bell Bay Pulp MillEmergency listing for the Tarkine
The Environment Minister today approved the three remaining modules of the Gunns Bell Bay pulp mill environmental impact management plan.
The Minister said he had also approved changes to previously approved parts of the plan after the company sought to further toughen environmental controls.
- Referral Detail: Gunns Limited/Manufacturing/Bell Bay/TAS/Kraft Pulp Mill and ancillary chemical production and infrastructure
- Frequently asked questions
Environmental Impact Management Plan (EIMP)
- Statement of Reasons (PDF - 2787 KB)
- Brief B11/359 (PDF - 488KB)
- Attachment C - Modules L, M and N
- Attachment D - Modules A, D, F-G-H-K
- Attachment E: Analysis of Modules L, M & N (PDF - 60KB)
- Attachment F: Letter of IEG advice (PDF - 93KB)
- Attachment G: Description of amendments to Modules A, D and F-G-H-K (PDF - 26KB)
- Attachment H: Detail of proposed variations to conditions (PDF - 65KB)
- Attachment I: Letter from Gunns (PDF - 29KB)
- Attachment J: Variation instrument (as changed by Minister) (PDF - 3469KB)
- Attachment J: Variation instrument (original/unsigned) (PDF - 3560KB)
- Attachment K: Letter to Gunns (PDF - 182KB)
- Brief B11/116 (Word - 78KB) (not considered by Minister)
The Federal Environment Minister has approved the final three modules of the Gunns Bell Bay pulp mill environmental impact management plan, completing the project's Federal environmental approval requirements.
The approved parts (modules L, M and N) are all to do with discharge and related monitoring and response strategies.
Malcolm Turnbull's approval of the mill in 2007 came with a requirement that Gunns develop an environmental impact management plan. In 2009, former Environment Minister Peter Garrett refused to approve the remaining three modules until the company had undertaken all the modelling and scientific studies required by the approval conditions.
The Minister's decision follows a thorough assessment by the Federal Environment Department and an Independent Expert Group of Scientists who carefully reviewed the modelling and scientific studies provided by Gunns to ensure the management plan protects the environment in the Bass Strait.
What scientific studies and modelling did Gunns undertake for these modules, and what did the expert group conclude?
Gunns advised it completed extensive scientific studies at a similar pulp mill overseas to obtain a full understanding of discharge composition, and undertook comprehensive modelling.
It is predicted that the discharge will be made up of more than 98 per cent water when it reaches Commonwealth waters-which is the only matter the minister can consider in making this decision under national environment law-it will be so dilute that elements will be below detection levels.
Gunns will have in place an ongoing monitoring program, which will set baseline levels, so that early action can be taken should conservative thresholds be exceeded.
The expert group concluded that the final parts of the management plan satisfactorily met all the relevant approval conditions.
What will be the impact of the discharged from the mill in Bass Strait?
The Australian and the state governments are responsible for different areas of the marine environment.
To ensure the Commonwealth marine environment is protected, the federal conditions of approval set strict limits on the allowable levels of discharge that can be released by the mill.
The approval conditions require Gunns to develop strategies to monitor the impacts of the mill effluent on the marine environment.
This monitoring plan must cover issues such as the quantity and quality of the discharge as well as impacts on the marine environment including the quality of the water, sediment and ecology. Much of this monitoring will need to take place in state waters, where the discharge will be released, so can be seen as an added safeguard to ensuring the protection of the Commonwealth marine environment.
Gunns has now completed further hydrodynamic modelling to predict the fate of effluent once it mixes with and is diluted by seawater.
What happens if the discharge exceeds the maximum limit allowed?
Gunns will be subject to civil and criminal sanctions under national environment law, including penalties of up to $1.1 million for each offence. If Gunns are unable to reverse the impacts of such exceedances, the mill must cease operating until a satisfactory tertiary treatment solution is installed.
What were the requested changes to the management plan? Why was the decision due date extended?
Gunns sought tougher environmental controls to be incorporated into the environmental impact management plan.
The plan now specifies that Gunns will only use plantation timber for the pulp mill, and a bleaching process that uses less chlorine than first proposed, called elemental chlorine free light. Because the approval conditions specify that the environmental impact management plan must be implemented as approved, Gunns must comply with these measures.
A timeframe extension was required to allow the department and the independent expert group time to assess these proposed variations.
When was the pulp mill approved by the Australian Government?
The Gunns Ltd Bell Bay pulp mill was approved with conditions on 4 October 2007 by former Federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull under national environment law-the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
What is the role of the Australian Government in the approval process?
The Australian Government's responsibility with the Gunns pulp mill project was confined to looking at significant impacts on matters of national significance.
What role does the Australian Government play in determining the pipeline route?
The pipeline route is a matter for Gunns to determine, and it must negotiate with relevant landholders to get the access it requires. State and local government requirements must also be considered. The Australian Government approval process considered the potential impacts of the pipeline's construction on nationally protected matters. Various conditions have been imposed on the project to ensure the pipeline does not have an impact on these matters. This included a requirement that the pipeline is now buried under the sand dunes.
The Minister also approved a Gunns request to a small number of minor deviations to the water and discharge pipeline. These were to accommodate regional planning priorities, major infrastructure developments and minor realignments requested by landowners. The Minister approved the variation on the grounds that these deviations would not have a significant impact on nationally protected matters.
What controls are in place to make sure that the pulp mill will have good environmental standards?
The Federal approval contains strict conditions under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to ensure those matters listed under the legislation are protected. As part of these conditions, Gunns was required to submit an environmental impact management plan, the final three modules of which the Minister has now approved.
The management plan is divided into sixteen modules, each dealing with a specific phase of construction and operation, such as vegetation clearing, pipeline construction and the monitoring program. The conditions also require transparent and regular reporting by Gunns. An independent site supervisor has been appointed to monitor how the project is complying with the management plan.
What about smell, air quality, transport emissions and noise?
Regulating these matters falls under the Tasmanian Government's jurisdiction.
Can the Minister change the Environmental Impact Management Plan?
The Minister revised condition 49 to ensure that any request to vary the environmental impact management plan would only be considered if it would result in an equivalent or improved environmental outcome.