ICAC complaint lodged against EPA Chief Barry Buffier: Time for truth and responsible regulation of coal train pollution

A complaint against the New South Wales Environmental Protection Authority has been lodged today with the independent corruption watchdog over the EPA’s alleged misconduct in the regulation of coal train pollution in the Hunter Valley.

The Hunter Community Environment Centre lodged the complaint with the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) after EPA Chief Barry Buffier refused to provide any explanation for his agency’s systematic cover-up of recent technical studies of coal train pollution. HCEC’s complaint included more than 3,000 pages of evidence obtained under freedom of information laws.

“Until now, we have given the EPA the benefit of the doubt. But rather than address the substance of our concerns, EPA Chief Barry Buffier advised us to instead lodge our evidence with ICAC.”

“Thousands of pages of emails and correspondence map a trail of deception,” said HCEC spokesperson Dr John Mackenzie.

“We believe that on the balance of the evidence, there is a strong case that the EPA under the direction of Mr Buffier, has acted in breach of the public trust. Under the ICAC Act, this meets the definition of corruption.”

“We have evidence that the EPA prepared press releases that deny the significance of coal train pollution, before they received or considered the monitoring reports or independent technical advice that they themselves commissioned. We also have evidence that Senior bureaucrats expressed concerns to the EPA about making statements contrary to the evidence presented in the monitoring reports. Senior public servants also expressed concern that the technical reviews identified “gross errors” in the monitoring reports and reached “completely contradictory conclusions” to those of the monitoring reports.

“Even after the EPA’s cover-up was exposed, Mr Buffier has continued to deny that coal trains cause pollution, and to justify the EPA’s unwillingness to regulate particle pollution in the Hunter rail corridor.”

“Our investigations have uncovered an extraordinary series of events, and the community deserves an explanation,” said Dr Mackenzie.

“It is deeply disappointing that community groups are forced to take such dramatic steps to get a basic level of accountability from our Government.”

“Given that the proposed fourth coal terminal would mean an extra two million uncovered coal trains passing through the Valley each year, this silence from the regulator is unacceptable. We need to understand clearly what this increase would mean in terms of air pollution impacts. HCEC does not believe that the assessment of the T4 proposal can progress without this vital information. We are calling on the Planning Minister to suspend the T4 assessment until this matter is resolved.”

“The EPA’s failure to regulate coal train pollution demonstrates corruption or gross incompetence. In making this complaint, we are calling in the umpire to decide. Either way, we believe that Barry Buffier and the EPA have a case to answer to.”

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