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Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries publishes Environmental Directions – environmental timeframes extended until after lockdown period

31 March 2020

On 31 March 2020, the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries published Directions which affect environmental processes and timelines. These directions are valid until 15 June 2020 (the duration of the declared national state of Disaster which is by default 3 months long from 15 March 2020, unless extended). The Directions relate to the declared lockdown period which at present, runs from 26 March 2020 to 16 April 2020.

The purpose of  these directions is to reduce risk from Covid-19 and to ensure fair processes, especially relating to environmental licensing and appeals processes, public participation processes, reporting requirements and waste management services during the lockdown. They apply widely – to all spheres of government, interested and affected parties, applicants, environmental assessment practitioners and involved parties.  The directions will apply in default, unless a competent authority has indicated otherwise – for instance, a provincial department responsible for environmental affairs may issue different directions for their processes.

Under the directions, certain timeframes are extended for the duration of the decalred lockdown period. For instance, any timeframes in the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations or in any environmental authorisation (including validity periods and dates for submission of audit reports).

The Directions give the same extension until the end of the lockdown to all timeframes contained in the National Environmental Management: Waste Act and the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act relating to licences and authorisations. This extension also applies to any waste tyre export authorisation which would have expired during lockdown.

Minister Creecy’s directions also grant an extension until the end of the lockdown period for environmental appeals. Appeal authorities will not receive or process appeals during the lockdown period. No-one may apply for environmental authorisation during lockdown. The directions also say that authorities will not accept or process any applications for the transfer of a waste management licence during lockdown.

These directions grant an extension for any exemptions under the Waste Act which would expire during the lockdown. This means that an exemption will continue to be valid for the duration of the lockdown. Authorities responsible for applications for the remediation of contaminated land will not accept or process any applications until the end of the lockdown period.

The directions further state that data providers under the National Atmospheric Emission Reporting Regulations must submit the required reporting information by 30 April 2020 (and not 31 March as required by these Regulations). The same extension (to 30 April) is given to data providers to submit the required reports under the National Greenhouse Gas Emission Reporting Regulations.