Atmosphere Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Dr Peter Manins, Environmental Consulting and Research Unit, CSIRO Atmospheric Research, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06746 9

Urban Air Quality (continued)

Indicators of policy response (continued)


  • Air Quality Improvement Plan
  • Early adoption of the Air NEPM
  • Review of the SEPP 'Air Quality Management'
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    Air Quality Improvement Plan

    The EPA has released two action plans for the Port Phillip Region: a management plan for Geelong (EPAV 1998a) and an air quality improvement plan for the whole region (EPAV 2000a).

    The overarching goal of the regional plan is to meet the air quality aspirations of the people of Victoria, recognising the 'triple bottom line' issues of environmental, economic and social factors. The plan is the culmination of many years of managing air quality in Victoria. It builds on a comprehensive inventory of air emissions that was published in 1998, and a series of projections of future air quality to the year 2020. It proposes actions to reduce air pollution from motor vehicles, industry, households and a range of miscellaneous sources. In effect, it will function as a component of the implementation strategy to achieve the Air NEPM requirements.

    Actions included in the Plan are those that are already in train, or adopted in government policy. The plan also proposes a range of options that are not yet embedded in government policy, but may be needed to address some important air quality sources that are a factor in achieving the goals that the community wishes to meet. Once public comments on the elements of the Plan are analysed, atmospheric modelling will be used to determine the effectiveness of the proposals selected. This will be combined with economic analysis to determine the most cost-effective means of achieving the air quality goals.

    Both action plans reviewed air quality issues that are likely to be significant. These include: the need to reduce ozone levels by further reducing hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emissions, both of which come primarily from motor vehicles; reducing fine particulate levels by reducing diesel vehicle emissions, as well as emissions from domestic wood burning, industry, controlled burning and other motor vehicles; and determining the importance of air toxics. In the case of Geelong, the action plan identified a need to reduce sulfur dioxide and fluoride levels around key industrial sources.

    Early adoption of the Air NEPM

    State environment protection policies (SEPPs) are key statutory tools in Victoria's framework to establish and implement environmental goals. These establish the principles that guide environmental management, define the beneficial uses that are to be protected, set the goals and scientific objectives to evaluate environmental improvement and establish an attainment program that will deliver the outcomes of the policy.

    The Air NEPM became law in all jurisdictions in Australia in 1998. In January 1999, the Air NEPM was incorporated into state environment protection policy by Order-in-Council, thus fully integrating it with other relevant Victorian statutory law. This SEPP adopted all Air NEPM Standards alongside Victorian environmental objectives not addressed in the NEPM. In addition to the Air NEPM Standards, the SEPP sets objectives to protect visibility, and an eight-hours ozone objective intended to protect sensitive vegetation.

    Review of the SEPP 'Air Quality Management'

    Those elements of the earlier 1981 SEPP (Air Environment) not incorporated into the new SEPP (Ambient Air Quality), have been incorporated into the new SEPP (Air Quality Management). This SEPP maintains the legal framework for regulating sources of air quality degradation, the title reflecting the focus on issues relating to the management of sources of emissions. The SEPP (Air Quality Management) and those components of the SEPP (Ambient Air Quality) not derived from the Air NEPM were the subject of a major Victorian review during 2000 and the first half of 2001 (EPAV 2000a, 2000d). The review was designed to ensure that Victoria introduced a modern set of policy provisions and programs to address the management of air quality.

    Several new approaches and principles were proposed in this policy review. One was to integrate the management of several issues that have been dealt with by other mechanisms. For the first time in Victoria, the draft policy specifically addressed energy efficiency, greenhouse gas production and ozone depletion in Victorian regulatory tools - the Works Approvals and Licences that regulate key industries.

    The draft policy discussed a new concept for air management: the development of Neighbourhood Environment Improvement Plans. Air management in Australia and internationally has focused on regional air quality across an airshed, or has regulated emissions from point sources to prevent air quality degradation in the immediate vicinity of the source. The important gap that has not been previously addressed formally is the air quality in a local neighbourhood, where air quality may be affected by several disparate sources. The Plans deal with the circumstance where air quality at a subregional level is influenced by the combined effect of sources such as industry, local traffic emissions and domestic sources such as woodsmoke. The Plans are intended to be developed in a way that involves a range of stakeholders including state government agencies, local government and the local community.

    Western Australia

    The Perth Air Quality Management Plan (DEP 2000b) was developed by the Air Quality Co-ordinating Committee together with the Department of Environmental Protection. The state government, as part of a four-year program to address issues of air quality in the Perth metropolitan region, initiated its development. The Consultation Draft outlines the key strategies and actions, scheduled to be implemented over the next 30 years to ensure that the people of Perth have clean air. As the Perth metropolitan region appears to be on the threshold of an air quality problem, several actions are already underway.

    The Consultation Draft is supported by several scientific studies and technical reports, including a State of Knowledge report (DEP 2000a), which provides a comprehensive review of ambient air quality monitoring data for the Perth metropolitan region. Scientific studies including the Kwinana Air Modelling Study (DCE 1982), the Perth Photochemical Smog Study (Western Power Corporation & DEP 1996) and the Perth Haze Study (DEP 1996) provided a solid foundation on which to base decision-making for future actions. The need for strategies to improve air quality were specifically highlighted in the Perth Photochemical Smog Study and the Perth Haze Study.


    The EPA launched the South-East Queensland Regional Air Quality Strategy (EPAQ 1999b) on 12 December 1999. This document represents the culmination of seven years of activity and is a partnership between government, industry and the community to protect the environment and the quality of life in south-east Queensland. Many of the strategy's 180 recommendations are being implemented, including initiatives to reduce vehicle emissions, improve transport planning and monitor of air quality better. The Strategy lays the foundation for developing methodologies for adopting cleaner practices in the community and in industry, and in establishing a reference point for disseminating information and technical advice to stakeholders and the general public. In December 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the oil industry to reduce summer petrol volatility, a significant contributor to smog formation.

    The state government's cleaner fuels initiative of 2000 to 2001 demonstrates the priority given to improved air quality for all Queenslanders, particularly in highly populated urban areas. Regulations that limit the sulfur content in diesel fuel to 500 ppm took effect in 2000. These regulations also require the phasing out of leaded petrol by March 2001. These changes are in advance of the national timetable and position Queensland well for further advances towards best practice in the provision of cleaner fuels.

    New South Wales

    In February 1998, Action for air, the NSW government's 25-year air quality management plan, was issued (EPAN 1998). It followed extensive consultation on two previous documents issued in 1996 that covered a smog action plan and an air quality management plan for Sydney, the Illawarra and the Lower Hunter. These documents themselves followed from the detailed air quality modelling and health study undertaken as part of the New South Wales Metropolitan Air Quality Study, which is summarised in EPAN (1996).

    Action for Air concentrates the State's air quality management strategy on the Greater Metropolitan area (Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong) which contains about 70% of the State's population. The focus is on regional air pollution through a comprehensive attack on photochemical smog and fine particle pollution. It is a broad, long-term plan that recognises that many actions are needed to successfully tackle air pollution. It puts in place actions that will reduce emissions from motor vehicles as well as industrial and commercial sources and from everyday household activities. The regional focus is also based on strong links to local and global issues, especially the state government's high priority campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to promote sustainable energy sources. Actions include reducing summer petrol volatility, load-based licensing for major emitters of nitrogen oxides, transport planning, the preparation of a code of practice for printers and smoke management guidelines.


    The Department of Primary Industries, Water and the Environment issued a Discussion Paper on Air Quality Management and Policy Development in 2000 (DPIWE 2000), marking an important step in the development of a policy on air quality for Tasmania. The policy is required for several reasons, and includes the following:

    • whereas the state is considered to have good air quality for most of the year, the cooler months are associated with urban levels of particulate matter that are well above the Air NEPM Standard (e.g. for a discussion about Launceston, see Regional air quality).
    • existing regulatory controls on air emissions from industrial facilities are scheduled to lapse at the end of 2000 and the State requires the establishment of a mechanism for controlling industrial emissions in a manner that is environmentally sustainable and cost-effective
    • existing air regulations do not adequately reflect the underlying concepts of the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994
    • the Air NEPM formally became a state policy in Tasmania in 1999 and a mechanism for achieving the ambient air quality goals of the Measure needs to be established.

    To facilitate the development of an air quality strategy and policy, the Board of Environmental Management and Pollution Control established a Committee consisting of government and non-government representatives, including industry. The Discussion Paper does not offer prescriptive actions but outlines the issues and canvasses possible approaches so as to gauge public support and acceptance of any action before it is implemented.

    Australian Capital Territory

    Major achievements include the introduction of the Environment Protection Act 1997 and the ACT Firewood Strategy (

    The Environment Protection Act took effect on 1 June 1998. The Act provides a platform for more effective and sophisticated environmental management that takes us away from an ' end of pipe' philosophy to solving pollution problems before they occur. Environmental policies may be made under the Act, such as the draft Air Environment Protection Policy (in prep.).

    The Firewood Strategy was developed to protect biodiversity values without adversely affecting the air quality of the ACT and surrounds. A key component of the Strategy is a public campaign aimed at educating people on the proper operation and maintenance of wood heaters to minimise air pollution.

    Local government

  • Local Government Air Quality Management Plans (AQMPs)
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    Councils do not generally monitor air quality. This function is still primarily conducted by State Environment Protection Authorities (EPAs). More importantly, most councils would not have the resources required to conduct air quality monitoring: it is expensive and often would not be a sensible use of a council's environment budget or the time of council officers. Local government monitoring activities related to air quality are often confined to simple traffic counts (e.g. number of passenger vehicles per hour) or traffic congestion at a particular time on a particular arterial or local route (i.e. total number of vehicle kilometres travelled per hour). Whereas these measures can indicate the possible levels of vehicle-related pollutants, they are traditionally and still primarily used for amendments to local traffic by-laws or to address reduced amenity issues. They are also ineffective measures of regional air quality as they do not provide information on travel distribution within a particular region or the distribution of vehicle-related pollution.

    More recently, some councils have started monitoring travel densities. This could be used to help measure local and regional concentrations of motor vehicle pollutants if all the councils in a particular region used the same formats. However, this presumes a uniformity of application. Councils will, however, continue to set their priorities by regional and rate-payer concerns and interests.

    Local Government Air Quality Management Plans (AQMPs)

    This topic is also discussed in Regional air quality.

    Councils generally have actions that deal with reductions to greenhouse gas emissions such as energy efficiency, waste minimisation, traffic calming, promoting alternatives to car travel and community awareness and education. As such, councils have action plans that actively reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions but do not integrate them under air quality management. Except for Queensland councils, Australian local governments do not have responsibility for the provision of transport networks. Nor, until recently, has any state legislated for the preparation of local government AQMPs (NSW). As a result, very few urban councils in Australia would have prepared a formal AQMP.

    Although councils in New South Wales have a legislative requirement to develop and implement AQMPs, local governments in other states may consider that they have a comparatively minimal capacity to regulate on air quality. A focus on 'uniformity' could be seen to give preference to the local government arrangements in New South Wales.

    The State EPAs in Victoria and Queensland have recently introduced regional AQMPs or regional Air Quality Improvement Plans (AQIPs). These target the primary stakeholders in each region, including councils. However, regional AQMPs do not actually require the preparation of Air Quality Plans by councils themselves.

    Councils that indicated that they have prepared Air Quality Management Plans are:

    1. Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (12 member councils) (Local Air Quality Management: Innovative Ways of Working Together)
    2. Newcastle City Council (Newcastle's Airshed Management Plan)
    3. Brisbane City Council (Brisbane's Air Quality Strategy).