The Pilbara Environmental Offsets Fund
The Pilbara Environmental Offsets Fund (the fund) delivers environmental offset projects in the Pilbara bioregion of Western Australia in partnership with traditional owners, conservation agencies, industry and government.
The fund’s aim is to deliver environmental offsets in the Pilbara through a strategic landscape-scale approach, building on regional programs including ranger groups, so that environmental offset outcomes are greater than the sum of individual offset contributions.
Environmental offsets are actions that provide environmental benefits which counterbalance the significant residual environmental impacts or risks of a project or activity that remain after mitigation (including rehabilitation). Offsets are usually undertaken outside of the mining activity area.
The fund combines money from individual offset payments required under Part IV of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (EP Act), and may combine contributions required under Part 9 or 10 of the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
The fund’s establishment enables the government to combine offset money and partner with regional land management organisations, to deliver projects that achieve better and more connected biodiversity conservation outcomes.
It will operate for decades to come with grant rounds running every 1 to 2 years in focused areas to improve and restore vegetation and habitat over the longer term.
Click here for an overview of the plan
The Pilbara region has ancient and striking landscapes and many diverse habitats, including mangroves, grassland savannahs, mountain ranges, gorges, wetlands and tropical woodlands.
The region very high biodiversity value, possessing high species richness and many endemic flora and fauna species. It has 150 conservation-significant flora species and the greatest reptile diversity in Western Australia. It is also an international hotspot for subterranean fauna.
The Pilbara is also one of Australia’s most important regions for mineral wealth, and generates 40 per cent of Western Australia’s gross domestic product. While industry is vital to our economic progress, its impacts need to be balanced with the conservation of the region’s precious environmental values.
Why a fund for the Pilbara?
Environmental offsets have helped mining companies and other proponents meet their obligations under state and federal legislation in the Pilbara for many years.
They enable sustainable mining development by counterbalancing impacts that can’t be avoided or mitigated. Offset activities are undertaken outside a specific project area rather than onsite.
To date, the effective implementation of offsets in the Pilbara has been hampered by the region’s unique land tenure (all crown land with overlapping mining, native title and pastoral interests). This makes traditional land acquisition and access for on-ground offset activities difficult. Offsets have not always been connected with other conservation efforts or deployed where needed most.
In 2012, the Western Australian Minister for Environment mandated that proponents in the Pilbara pay their environmental offsets into a strategic fund for conservation. In the same year, the federal Minister for Environment gave proponents the option of doing so. This led to the establishment of the Pilbara Environmental Offsets Fund.
The approach was supported by strategic advice from the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to the state Minister for Environment in 2014, which identified key threats and challenges to the conservation of biodiversity in the region: EPA’s 16(E) Cumulative environmental impacts of development in the Pilbara region advice.
The Pilbara Environmental Offset Fund enables government, in partnership with traditional owners and regional stakeholders, to broker access for offsets on land with complicated tenure arrangements, and in doing so deliver projects that:
- are strategic, linked and delivered across the landscape
- leverage other regional programs and build on existing partnerships between traditional owners, conservation agencies, industry and government, and engage traditional owners and rangers in work on their country.
The fund’s implementation plan describes how the fund will be delivered over the next five years.
Under the EP Act, the EPA undertakes the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process for significant development projects proposed for Western Australia.
Under the EIA process, companies undertaking mining and infrastructure projects in the Pilbara bioregion may be required to pay a rate per hectare of impact that they cannot avoid or rehabilitate. This money is then combined into the Pilbara Environmental Offset Fund’s special purpose account.
The conditions for implementing these offsets are set out in Ministerial Approval Statements which are published on the EPA website
Rates paid for the offset
Implementation conditions in Ministerial Statements set out the rate per hectare. Rates have been set in three of the four sub-regions in the Pilbara bioregion (Chichester, Fortescue, and Hamersley) that proponents must pay. So far, rates have been set for the Chichester, Fortescue and Hamersley but not for Roebourne.
These rates are based on the level of biodiversity protection in the region, and cumulative impacts to environmental values, including high quality vegetation and the conservation of significant-species habitat.
A base rate applies for impacts to native vegetation in good to excellent condition, which may include impacts to fauna habitat.
A higher rate may apply for impacts to some types of specialised environmental values, including but not limited to impacts on:
- riparian vegetation
- Threatened or Priority Ecological Communities
- important vegetation types
- specialised fauna habitat.
A negotiated rate, or alternative approach, will be determined on a case-by-case basis for impacts to particularly significant or sensitive environmental values that do not suit a standardised value.
The rate per hectare will be subject to annual indexation to the Perth – All Groups Consumer Price Index.
Table 1 Rates per hectare for each IBRA Pilbara sub-region (rounded up to a whole number)
|Financial year||Rate per hectare for each IBRA sub-region|
Australian Government conditions
If memorandum of understanding is signed between the state and federal governments, the fund can also receive money required as a condition under Part 9 or 10 of the EPBC Act (Cth). Where state and federal offset values overlap, government agencies work cooperatively to align offsets and avoid duplication to the fullest extent practicable.
The EPBC Act Environmental Offsets Policy guides the use of offsets under federal legislation.