Social surrounds change could increase social licence risk

Social surrounds and social licence

In 2011, the Environmental Protection Authority recommended against a proposal by Vasse Coal Management to develop a coal mine near Margaret River.

The EPA’s advice to the Barnett Government said it, “considered that there were likely to be significant impacts, or risks, from the proposal on the Leederville and Sue Aquifers, and on significant environmental values, including the social surrounds of the Margaret River region, which those aquifers support”.

The EPA considers social surrounds when assessing significant projects, because, since 1986, the Environmental Protection Act has defined the environment as, “living things, their physical, biological and social surroundings, and interactions between all of these”. And says that, for humans, social surrounds can include aesthetic, cultural and economic qualities. Given this, one can understand the risk Vasse Coal posed to Margaret River’s lifestyle, wine industry and tourism appeal, being a factor.

In the push for more efficient project approvals, it makes sense to remove any duplication between the consideration of social surrounds, under the EP Act, and other legislation, such as the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

But removing social surrounds as a consideration for environmental approvals altogether, as recently proposed, risks undermining stakeholder relationships and social licence for projects ranging from mining, to large-scale renewables and, potentially, nuclear.

And possibly redefine what we mean by the environment, as well.

This article also appeared in The West Australian newspaper.


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