Water and Environmental Regulation Pilbara environmental offsets fund

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The Pilbara Environmental Offsets Fund (PEOF) delivers environmental offset projects in the Pilbara bioregion of Western Australia in partnership with traditional owners, conservation agencies, industry and government.
pilbara landscape with a town site in the distance

Aim

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, further information is available in the overview.

map showing the interim biogeographic regionalisation for Australia region of the Pilbara

The Pilbara

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.

Addressing challenges

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.

Fund contributions

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.

 

Financial Year Hamersley: base Hamersley: higher Fortescue: base Fortescue: higher Chichester: base Chichester: higher
2012/13 750 1500 1500 3000    
2013/14 772 1545 1545 3090    
2014/15 786 1573 1573 3146    
2015/16 793 1587 1587 3174 750 1500
2016/17 798 1596 1596 3193 754 1509
2017/18 805 1611 1611 3222 761 1523
2018/19 816 1632 1632 3264 771 1542

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.

Governance

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The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation is responsible for managing $90 million worth of offset contributions over the next 40 years. This will ensure that offset payments directly benefit vegetation and habitat impacted by mining.

Each of the government, mining and community sectors expect good governance and all have helped develop the fund’s governance framework.

Traditional owners, industry, government, natural resource management organisations, conservation groups and the research sector have advised government on the development and evaluation of the five-year implementation plan, which defines the priorities and criteria for project selection.

The fund is managed in accordance with the governance framework and terms of reference for; the implementation advisory group (IAG) and the project recommendation group (PRG).

The governance framework and terms of reference establish transparent decision-making processes, clarify roles and responsibilities, and guide the delivery of projects with the monies receipted to the fund.

Core principles

The Minister for Environment has endorsed five core principles which frame delivery of the fund, which are:

  1. Transparent and accountable fund administration
  2. Cost-efficiency, including maximising leveraging opportunities to achieve regional environmental outcomes and minimising administration
  3. Effective performance evaluation and continual improvement
  4. Clear roles, responsibilities and accountabilities
  5. Constructive and transparent engagement with key stakeholders

Roles and responsibilities

organisation chart showing roles and responsibilities for PEOF governance

Minister for Environment

The Minister is the fund’s key decision-maker. He or she decides which projects get funded based on the criteria set in the plan.

Departmental management

The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (the department) manages the fund given its role in assuring compliance with the Financial Management Act 1997, Part IV of the EP Act (Ministerial Conditions), the WA Offsets Policy and conditions of the special purpose account. The department also chairs and provides the secretariat for the IAG and PRG.

The department and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) jointly advise the Minister, including putting forward the recommendations of the IAG and PRG.

Implementation advisory group (IAG)

The IAG is a group of experts associated with rehabilitation and conservation projects in the Pilbara, representing:

  • the mining industry
  • state government agencies
  • non-government land management and conservation organisations
  • traditional owners
  • Western Australian Biodiversity Science Institute

The IAG provides advice to the Directors General of this department and DCBA, and the Minister for Environment on:

  • strategies, plans, reports and projects that exist to conserve biodiversity in the Pilbara
  • leveraging opportunities
  • the five-year implementation plan
  • the scope of each grant round
  • the fund’s monitoring, evaluation, reporting and improvement framework

The IAG meets quarterly, although a special meeting may be convened by the Chair at any time. The IAG meeting schedule, agenda and minutes can be found on the implementation advisory group page.

IAG membership

IAG members include:

Name Organisation Position
Jan Cowan Pilbara Aboriginal Voice Pilbara Aboriginal Voice member
TBC Pilbara Aboriginal Voice Pilbara Aboriginal Voice member
Patrick Seares – Chair Department of Water and Environmental Regulation Executive Director Strategy and Engagement
TBC Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions Assistant Director, Science Biodiversity and Conservation Science
Blair Parsons Greening Australia Science and Programs Leader – Western Region
Jo Williams Pilbara Mesquite Management Committee Project Manager
Harriet Davies Specialist Biological Sciences, Roy Hill AMEC Representative
Karin Bankin Rio Tinto CME Representative
Lesley Gibson Western Australian Biodiversity Science Institute  

Project recommendation group (PRG)

The PRG consists of representatives from this department, DBCA and the federal Department of the Environment and Energy (DoEE), all of whom have experience in the deployment of biodiversity conservation projects.

An independent probity officer attends PRG meetings to ensure that project recommendation decisions are made in accordance with the implementation plan and the guideline for applicants for that grant round.

The PRG reviews project applications and recommends to the Minister which projects should be invested in.

Delivery agents

Delivery Agents will deliver projects selected by the Minister.

They may be drawn from the not-for-profit, government or private sectors through partnerships, direct requests or a call for expressions of interest.

Delivering the fund

Project implementation principles

State and federal offset policies define principles to guide the implementation of environmental offsets.

Offsets Register

Key offset policy principles for implementation of the fund are:

Key principles Details
Relevant and proportional
  • Projects implemented through the fund must improve environmental matters by a value that is equal or greater than the impact approved to be offset. This should occur in the same IBRA sub-region as where the impact occurred.
Cost-effective
  • Offset projects must be designed so they are value for money and have a high chance of success.
Strategic and landscape scale
  • Deliver projects that are linked and integrated across the Pilbara bioregion.
  • Enable threats such as weeds, fire and feral animals to be addressed more cost-effectively at an appropriate scale.
  • Build on existing successful regional programs (e.g. State Government conservation initiatives, current biosecurity management programs and ranger groups) to increase the conservation outcomes of offset activities.
Tangible improvement
  • Environmental matters must lead directly to a tangible and measurable improvement to the environmental matters required to be offset.
Enduring and secure in the longer term
  • Environmental offset projects must endure for as long as possible (ideally at least 20 years).
Additional to existing legislative obligations
  • Environmental offsets are additional when they are added to those that are already required by way of condition of approval or lease, or legislation.

Priority areas for investment

The fund will target investment in areas with a high density of both state and federal environmental matters, and where land tenure provides an opportunity for legal access and longevity for offset outcomes.

Projects will be delivered at different scales:

  • Landscape-scale programs address threats like weeds, feral animals, and inappropriate fire across the landscape.
  • Priority area programs build on the landscape-scale outcomes to further improve and protect vegetation and species habitat in identified priority areas.
  • Site-specific projects protect and improve specific environmental matters such as Priority Ecological Communities or a particular habitat with unique attributes.

Three priority areas for the first five years have been identified and are the starting point for the fund. Priority areas include:

  • Area 1: Chichester sub-bioregion – area south of Port Hedland centred on the Great Northern Highway
  • Area 2: Hamersley sub-region – area to the far east of the sub-region abutting the North West Coastal Highway
  • Area 3: Fortescue sub-bioregion – the mid Fortescue Valley. Include map of the 3 priority areas.

The priority areas included in each grant round will depend on the money available in the fund, and where projects that achieve long term outcomes for offset, are most feasible.

Call for applications round 1

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A total of $1,000,000 in funding for projects is available from the fund’s grant account in 2019–20. Grant applications for a minimum of $100,000 will be considered. There is no upper limit on individual grants per project per funding round (within the limits of the total funding available).

Applications for the first open grant from the fund will be sought in two stages. Stage 1 requires submission of an initial application for competitive assessment. Successful applicants are then invited to progress to stage 2 and submit a full project plan.

Priorities for investment

In this grant round, projects must be located within priority area 1 or 2 to be considered eligible for funding. Projects in priority area 3 will be considered for investment in later grant rounds.

Priority area 1 includes the granitic fields of the Chichester sub-region south of Port Hedland centred on the Woodstock and Abydos reserves, Indee Station and Yandeyarra.

Priority area 2 includes the lower Robe Valley in the far west of the Hamersley sub-region, including Yaraloola, Yalleen and Red Hill stations and the western extremity of the Hamersley Range.

Guideline for applicants

The guideline for applicants provides additional details on eligibility, the selection criteria and the application process.

If you have a project idea that falls outside of a priority area for investment, please register it with us by emailing us. This will help us to identify opportunities to guide revisions of the implementation plan.

Other state and federal grant programs which you may also be eligible for include:

Applications closed

Applications closed on 20 January 2020 at 5.00pm (AWST).

 

Documents

Page reviewed 1 July 2020
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