CHECKS on water resources for coal seam gas projects and large coal mines will be handed from the Commonwealth to state governments under proposed changes to national environment laws before parliament in Canberra.
As part of bills introduced by Environment Minister Greg Hunt in parliament this week, the "water trigger" put in national environmental laws last parliament would be devolved to the state authorities.
The change would remove the Commonwealth's responsibility for ensuring groundwater is protected from major projects, a policy which Mr Hunt said before the election would remain in federal hands.
However, the handover of the laws, he said, would still ensure the same level of protection, assessment and compliance, as is already the case under the Commonwealth process.
"Under the current provisions of the EPBC Act, water trigger projects must go through two separate approval processes," Mr Hunt said.
"This is different to how all other matters of national environmental significance are treated which can be accredited for approval at a state level.
"In line with the One-Stop Shop policy, the Government is amending the EPBC Act to allow the Minister to accredit state and territory processes for approving projects involving the water trigger."
However, the handover of the water trigger has raised further questions about the assessment process, after a key review of a failed bund wall at Gladstone Harbour found key failings in assessments.
That review, reported last week, found there was both a lack of resources given to assessments and monitoring, and the assessment process of the Gladstone dredging project showed a fragmented and inadequate approach by both state and federal governments.
The change comes as the Abbott government reached a key milestone in the hand-over of environmental assessments.
Draft bilateral agreements on the handover, between the Federal Government and Queensland and New South Wales, were released for public comment this week.
Those agreements form part of the Abbott government's one stop shop policy to cut red tape and largely remove Commonwealth oversight of environmental assessments.
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