This is an introduction to the EPA licensing system, providing a simple and concise overview of what it means to hold an EPA authorisation.
It includes information about licensing, the EPA’s regulatory approach, authorised officer interaction, and what to do if a pollution incident occurs.
There is also a section on community engagement, and the obligations that every licence-holder has to engage with neighbours and keep local communities informed about activities at your site.
If you would like any further information please contact your licensing team, via email or our call centre on 8204 2004.
The EPA works with its licensees – around 2,500 businesses in South Australia – to reduce risks to the environment. This takes in private enterprises as well as government bodies, and covers activities from winemaking and curing meat, to mining and the transport and processing of waste.
Licences or environmental authorisations contain conditions to ensure that potential impacts and risks to the environment are minimised. All licensees are required to meet their environmental obligations through efficient and effective practices, and we ensure that we support them to continually develop and adopt cleaner, more sustainable production technologies.
The EPA licenses 2 broad types:
- those that conduct activities considered significant to the environment, under the Environment Protection Act 1993
- those that work with radiation apparatus and radioactive substances, under the Radiation Protection and Control Act 2021.
The EPA is also committed to unlocking the state’s future potential, including creating jobs and encouraging innovation through modern regulatory and policy approaches. It is important to us that we not only protect the environment, but that we also provide certainty, fairness and the opportunity for innovation for the sectors we regulate.
Applying for a licence
An authorisation or licence is an enforceable agreement between the EPA and the licensee that sets out the minimum acceptable environmental standards to which the licensee must perform.
For best practice regulation, a risk-based approach is required when setting licence conditions. Subsequently, environmental licences are unique and may be developed to focus on any or all of the following objectives:
- documentation of the requirements of a licensee under existing regulations
- facilitating, through compliance with regulations, the attainment of environmental performance standards of the licensee
- facilitating the alignment of the behaviour of the licensee with the core environmental objectives of required under the Environment Protection Act 1993 and related policies
The Environment Protection Act 1993 (EP Act) requires that all reasonable and practical measures are taken to protect, restore and enhance the quality of the environment, including requiring persons engaged in polluting activities to progressively make environmental improvements. This will affect how the minimum acceptable standards are determined and reflected in licences.
The EPA negotiates conditions through a licence to regulate activities that have the potential to harm the environment. Any person or company undertaking these types of activities may need an EPA licence, as required by the EP Act.
The licence fee system is based on ‘user pays’ and ‘polluter pays’ principles. Licence fees reflect the EPA’s regulatory effort as well as the amount and type of pollutants discharged to the environment.
The term of a licence is generally 5 years, but can typically vary from 1 to 10 years based on the EPA’s assessment of the risk or duration of the activity.
If your business discharges emissions to the air or water, is odorous or noisy then you should check whether an EPA licence is required.
Many activities in Schedule 1 specify a threshold at or below which a licence is not needed and above which a licence is needed. For example, if you wish to operate a brewery that has the capacity to produce more that 5,000 litres per day then you would need an environmental licence.
The EPA can provide advice to businesses and organisations if you are unsure whether you need an environmental licence.
Licence not justified determination
There are certain activities within Schedule 1 (waste recovery, waste reprocessing, waste disposal, activities involving listed waste, waste transport or railway systems) where the EPA can make a determination that a licence is not justified.
This determination is based on following prescribed factors, as listed in Schedule 1 Clause 3(b) of the Environmental Protection Act 1993:
- the nature and purpose of the activity
- the location of the activit
- the scale and duration of the activity
- the nature and amount of any waste or pollution produced by the activity;
- the manner of conduct of the activity, and
- any other factors considered relevant by the Authority. For more information see licence not justified applications.
Refer to 'Licence not justified applications' below.
The holder of an EPA licence is required to comply with the conditions of operation set in their licence. These conditions are normally set through negotiation with a licence coordinator but may, where necessary, be imposed by the EPA. Licence conditions are able to be appealed through the Environment Resources and Development Court.
Emissions or discharges that exceed set limits may require the development of an environment improvement program (EIP) by the licensee which will move their operation into being able to comply with the limits for those discharges over a set period of time.
An EPA licence provides a level of assurance to the public and the company’s shareholders that the company is aware of its environmental obligations and is working with the EPA to achieve these obligations.
It is the responsibility of a person or company to determine if they require a licence. It is serious offence to undertake a prescribed activity without a licence and could result in a maximum fine of $120,000.
It is also an offence to provide false or misleading information and can result in a maximum fine of $60,000.
The EPA also utilises a number of enforcement tools to manage non compliance with licence conditions.
You need to consider whether development consent is necessary for the prescribed activity prior to applying for a licence at a fixed site. Your local council or, if necessary, Dept of Planning, Transport & Infrastructure can help you decide whether development consent is required.
If you require development consent, the EPA cannot issue you with a licence until that consent is obtained. It is in your interest to determine what has to be done under the planning laws before you apply for a licence.
The time it takes to get an EPA licence varies and is dependent on the complexity of the applicant’s activities and operations. The timeframe varies between around 1 month and up to 4 months for more complex assessments.
When you have decided that you need an environment licence, you will need to fill out an application form.
If you have any questions, contact EPA Licensing on (08) 8204 2058.
The following stages are required for an individual or business to apply for an environmental authorisation (licence, works approval, exemption):
- Development approval: If development consent is required, the EPA cannot issue a licence until consent is obtained. It is in the applicant's interest to determine what is required under the relevant planning provisions before making an application for a licence.
- Application for authorisation: An application form is required to be completed by the applicant and submitted to the EPA.
- Public is notified: A public notice must be published on the EPA website and/or in a newspaper circulating generally in the state (and if deemed appropriate, the local newspaper), and the EPA will write to adjacent land owner/occupiers within 60 metres of the facility about the application and the type of activity that is being proposed. Members of the public will be given a minimum period of at least 14 days to submit comments.
- Authorisation conditions established: The EPA will determine the appropriate conditions of licence, exemption or works approval after considering written public submissions and responses from the applicant.
- Authorisation is determined: The EPA will grant approval for the environmental authorisation and send an invoice for the annual fee which must be paid in full before the environmental authorisation will be issued.
Licence not justified determination
The EPA may, having regard to prescribed factors, determine a licence is not justified for the following activities:
- 3(1) waste recovery facility
- 3(2) waste reprocessing facility
- 3(3) waste disposal facility
- 3(5) activities involving listed waste
- 3(6) waste transport or
- 7(2) railway systems.
Note: the Environment Protection Act 1993 refers to authorisation not justified which includes works approval and exemptions. The term 'licence not justified' has been used as licences will make up of the bulk of requests and is the common term used by licensees.
Prescribed factors, as listed in the Schedule 1A1(3)(b) are:
- the nature and purpose of the activity
- the location of the activity
- the scale and duration of the activity
- the nature and amount of any waste or pollution produced by the activity
- the manner of conduct of the activity, and
- any other factors considered relevant by the Authority.
The EPA assesses the application, where an applicant proposes a licence may not be justified, on a case-by-case basis. If you would like to request the EPA to consider if a licence is not justified, you need to provide sufficient information for us to make this assessment.
- Contact the relevant planning authority (Dept for Infrastructure & Transport or your local council) to discuss whether you need planning or building approvals. Please be aware that any determination by the EPA does not exempt your application from development or planning requirements.
- Submit an application for a licence to the EPA and include the relevant 'licence not justified determination' form:
To discuss a potential application, contact the EPA on 8204 2058 or email.
Life cycle of a licence
Most EPA licences are granted for 5 years.
You must submit a renewal prior to the expiry of your licence. You will also be required to lodge an annual return, which will be explained to you by your licence coordinator.
Conditions on your licence will also be subject to regular review to ensure that harm to the environment is minimised or avoided.
The following diagram depicts the common lifecycle of a licence. Several things to note:
- Not all licensees require development approval.
- Not all licensees surrender their licence or conduct all activities within their licence during its life.
- Not all licences reach expiry and not all have public notification either.
- Development approval: If development consent is required, the EPA cannot issue you with a licence until consent is obtained. It is in the applicant’s interest to determine what is required under the relevant planning provisions before making an application for a licence.
- Application for licence: An application form is required to be completed by the applicant and submitted to the EPA.
- Public are notified: The EPA may notify the public of the request for a licence or exemption or works approval and offer the chance for public comment. The applicant will also have the chance to respond to public comments.
- Licence conditions established: The EPA will determine the appropriate conditions of licence or exemption or works approval in consultation with the applicant.
- Licence is granted: The EPA will grant approval for the licence and send an invoice for the licence fee.
- Annual return: The licensee must complete the licence annual return 90 days before to the anniversary date of the licence (see Renewals and Annual Returns).
- Ongoing maintenance: Changes may need to occur during the term of your licence. The licensee is responsible for advising the EPA of any changes to their operations that may affect the licence, such as:
- expanding or reducing their operational processes (this may require changes to licence conditions)
- relocating their operations
- changes to licence details such as staff contact details, postal address, etc.
- Renewal: The licensee must submit an application to renew a licence 90 days before to its expiry.
- Surrender: If the licensee believes they no longer require a licence they can request to surrender to licence. This is subject to approval from the EPA.
- Transfer: If a licensed company is sold or taken over by another company, the licence must be transferred to the new owners prior to that taking place. A licensee may apply to transfer their licence to another legal entity.
- Expiry/cancellation: If the licence fee is not paid, the licence may be cancelled. If the EPA no longer believe the licensee is fit to hold a licence the licence may be cancelled. The licensee may also apply to have the licence cancelled if they shut down their operations.
Change of business
There are a number of issues to consider when assessing changes to your business. Expanding production, change of ownership, relocating premises and new services, products and processes can all have an effect on your environmental obligations.
Starting a business
If you are intending to start a business then you should check whether you need a licence to operate under the Environment Protection Act 1993.
Generally, a business requires an EPA licence when it carries out what is called an activity of environmental significance. You can seek advice about this from the planning department of your local council or email the EPA.
If you need to apply for an EPA licence you will be asked to provide detailed information on the potentially polluting aspects of your business. This information will be assessed and used to determine the conditions under which you must operate. Failure to comply with those conditions may result in a fine or court action being taken by the EPA.
If you are considering expanding your business and do not already hold a licence, you should speak with the EPA as you may now require one.
If you are already a licensee and you are planning to expand your business operations then you should contact your licence coordinator.
A change in your processes or the construction of new plant or equipment may require EPA approval to ensure that there are no additional environmental impacts, or that any additional impacts will be properly managed.
Business premises licensed by the EPA may be relocated, and this will require a reassessment of the conditions of licence.
A new location has the potential to generate a whole new set of environmental issues. These must be considered when setting licence conditions for the new location to ensure that environmental impacts are properly managed.
Contact your licence coordinator or the EPA for more information.
Purchasing a business
If you intend on purchasing a business that already holds an EPA licence then you must apply to the EPA to have the licence transferred into your name.
The EPA must approve the transfer. However, the application may be rejected if you:
- are shown not to be a fit and proper person
- have contravened the Environment Protection Act 1993
- have contravened certain other Acts. These other Acts are generally the environment acts operating in other states. A full list can be found in the legislation.
An EPA licensee who is planning to shut down their operations may be required to develop a closure or post-closure plan.
Under this plan, the EPA will negotiate conditions for the management and monitoring of the land post-closure on which the business was carried out.
The EPA will only impose conditions if there is the potential for environmental harm after the business has ceased.
Renewals & Annual returns
You must submit a renewal to the EPA 90 days before to the expiry date of your licence.
Each year a licensee is required to submit an annual return to the EPA 90 days before the anniversary date of the licence.
The annual return provides information used to calculate the annual licence fee, and confirms licensee details such as registered name and contact details.
In certain circumstances a licensee may need to apply to the EPA for an exemption when they are unable to comply with the Environment Protection Act 1993.
The EPA may grant an exemption for a set period of time. There will be an expectation by the EPA that the business will work hard to move their operations into compliance or that the exceedences are short lived.
Exemptions are a form of environmental authorisation, as are licences, and are assessed using the same regulatory principles as those applied to standard licences. That is, the activity for which an exemption is sought is assessed in terms of risk of potential harm to the environment and human health.
A business that constructs or alters a building or structure that is intended for an EPA licensed activity may be required to obtain a works approval.
A works approval is generally not required if the works have already been subject to the development assessment process under the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016. In this circumstance the EPA may already have had the opportunity to provide comment or set conditions through powers conferred under this Act.
The works approval application is similar to that of a development application. It consists of an environmental assessment carried out for the EPA prior to considering a licence application.
Penalties for late lodgements or payments
The penalty for late lodgement and/or late payment will be $300 or 5% of the annual authorisation fee (whichever is higher) for each month (or part of that month) for which the default continues.
While the majority of EPA authorisation holders (licence, exemption and works approval) pay their fees on time, those who are late in lodging their documents or paying their fees impact on our ability to undertake our role as the state environmental regulator.
The financial penalties may apply to those who fail to:
- lodge an annual return 90 days prior to the anniversary date
- pay an annual authorisation fee by the anniversary date
- apply for renewal of authorisation 90 days prior to the expiry date
- pay annual authorisation instalment fees by the due date
- pay the waste levy and fail to make a levy payment within 28 days of the end of the preceding month.
Authorisation holders who may have difficulty in paying their fees on time can contact EPA Licensing on (08) 8204 2058 to discuss payment options, but they must make contact before the due date in order to avoid late fees.
New applications/variations for comment
When a company applies for a new authorisation or variation, an additional site or activity to be added to their existing authorisation or an existing condition has been relaxed, the EPA will provide the community with the opportunity to comment. A relaxation is when a condition is made less stringent.
A public notice is published in a newspaper circulating generally in the state (and if deemed appropriate, the local newspaper), and the EPA will write to adjacent land owner/occupiers within 60 metres of the facility about the application and the type of activity that is being proposed. Members of the public will be given a minimum period of at least 14 days to submit comments.
Once all comments are received, the EPA provides copies to the applicant – with personal details removed – and the applicant has the opportunity to respond to the issues raised. The EPA then considers both the public submissions and the applicants response in any decisions about granting or varying an authorisation.
The EPA believes that for a licensee to be a good environmental performer, it has to meet both its environmental obligations and also consider the impact of its operations on local communities.
Licensees are encouraged to actively work with their local community, particularly in relation to any off-site impacts. For example, a licensee may be required by conditions of licence to undertake public consultation with the local community when they are developing an environmental improvement program (EIP).
A person (including licensees) responsible for an actual or potential pollution incident is required by law to notify the EPA as soon as possible. You can also report pollution to the EPA even if you're not responsible.
If you are a licensee and you know your coordinator, you should notify them directly via telephone or email.
If you are unsure if an accident is actually a 'pollution incident', it is best to contact the EPA anyway, and we will assist you.
The penalties for not reporting an actual or potential incident are severe – for a body corporate $250,000 and for an individual $150,000.
Notification of an incident is necessary even if doing so may incriminate the person. Notifications may not be used as evidence in legal proceedings.
Environment protection order (EPO)
An environmental protection order (EPO) is a means of regulatory action by the EPA is to secure compliance, create deterrence and change behaviour. The first and foremost consideration when determining what course of action to take when dealing with a contravention is to secure compliance and minimise harm.
The factors that guide the EPA’s decisions are the likelihood of the offender complying and the consequences/impact of the contravention. It takes a risk-based approach to determine whether an order is the appropriate regulatory tool to address non-compliance.
Factors that will be considered (but not limited to) prior to the issuing of an EPO include:
- the extent of the environmental harm if harm has occurred
- if environmental harm has not occurred, the degree of risk of environmental harm
- the extent to which an individual, corporation or licensee is not complying with the general environmental duty
- the risk that not issuing an order may have in relation to the industry sector involved as a whole
- if any previous action has been taken in relation to the matter (eg discussions, a warning letter, a show cause letter)
- if it is likely the contravener is likely to become compliant without issuing an EPO, ie if the desired result could be achieved through other means
- the length of time it will take to achieve compliance through other means.
The EPO itself is not a form of punishment. However, failing to comply with an order is a serious offence under the Environment Protection Act 1993 (EP Act). Significant penalties may be imposed and there may also be penalties for each day of ongoing failure to comply.
The most common contraventions to occur include:
- causing or potential to cause environmental harm in the form of environmental nuisance (eg noise, dust)
- non-compliance with conditions of an environmental authorisation
- breach of a mandatory provision of an environment protection policy
- undertaking an activity of environmental significance as prescribed in Schedule 1 of the EP Act without an appropriate environmental authorisation (licence)
- non-compliance with an order
- non-compliance with a registration or licence by owners of ionising radiation apparatus
- operating an ionising radiation apparatus or handling a radioactive source or substance without a current licence.
EPOs are structured to ensure that the recipient can easily understand:
- why the order was issued
- what part of the law was contravened
- what is required to remedy the situation.
An EPO will include the following sections:
- Purpose of the order
This section details the specific part of the legislation that the order seeks compliance with.
- Particulars of non-compliance
This section details factual observations, relevant to the non-compliance, made by Authorised Officers during a site inspection. The main purpose of recording observations is to verify that non-compliance exists.
- Requirements of order
This section lists the actions and timeframes required for compliance. Requirements may instruct recipients to put in place suitable controls, cease operations, modify a process or activity, undertake specified tests or monitoring, prepare and provide a report, engage a qualified person to prepare or undertake tests or monitoring or conduct a clean-up.
The EP Act provides the person(s)/company being issued with an EPO the opportunity to appeal to the Environment, Resources and Development Court within a period of 14 days of issue.
The EPA regulatory approach sets out the principles and policy that we will apply in relation to compliance and enforcement.
The Regulatory options and tools provides more detailed information on the tools the EPA may use to manage non-compliance and the circumstances under which the tools may be applied.