Sites require an environmental assessment and audit when there is a need to understand the nature and extent of any contamination that may be present and whether that contamination poses a risk to the environment.
The assessment provides the scientific data and approach for understanding whether there are any risks and how they might be mitigated. Assessments are undertaken by professionals who are paid by private entities to undertake the work. While low, there is a risk that professionals may seek to gain by improperly requiring or not requiring works. Additionally, there is no formal accreditation or training for assessors and so there is considerable variation in ability and knowledge.
The audit provides an independent, robust and defensible process to assess the extent of the contamination and the risk posed to the environment. In the simplest terms, it validates the assessment. It draws on the data collected as part of a site assessment or monitoring program. An auditor is also paid by a private entity, but has a legal duty first and foremost to the State of Victoria and can face significant penalties (including imprisonment) for false or misleading information.
There are two types of audits.
Section 53X audits, which result in a certificate or statement of environmental audit, are conducted on potentially contaminated land proposed to be redeveloped (such as housing on former industrial land), to satisfy planning permit requirements. Local government can enforce the need for an environmental audit through the application of an environmental audit overlay within a planning scheme. Audits can also be undertaken voluntarily to satisfy commercial due diligence requirements.
Section 53V audits are used to understand the risk to the environment posed by an industrial activity or to validate a cleanup of contaminated land or groundwater. This includes audits associated with the construction and operation of landfills; owners demonstrating they are complying with a licence or notice; or when there is a planning permit application for a site located in a landfill buffer zone. EPA approves the scope of a 53V audit.