Time is running out for holders of environmental authorisations, as changes to the law now mean that independent audits are required in all sectors of the economy – and by 7 December this year.
Environmental authorisations are required by businesses in a range of sectors – wherever a business activity triggers a listed activity in the Environmental Conservation Act (ECA) or National Environmental Management Act (NEMA). Common sectors for such activity range from agriculture, forestry and paper to petrochemical, explosives and waste management.
“While many businesses hold environment permits, it was only the mining-related authorisations that legally required a regular independent audit by a qualified professional,” said Ashleigh Maritz, senior environmental scientist at SRK Consulting. “In terms of the new NEMA regulation 54A, this audit requirement has now been extended to all holders of such permits.”
The regulatory change – to now apply to all holders of an environmental permit or licence under the ECA or NEMA – was contained in the amended NEMA regulations of 7 April 2017. Regulation 53A (3) of NEMA provided a timeframe by when the first audit needed to be submitted to the competent authority; the deadline is 7 December 2019. Thereafter, subsequent audits need to be undertaken at least every five years.
“The audit requirements are bringing other industries into line with the mining sector, essentially ensuring that there is fairness in the application of this environmental law,” said Maritz. “Importantly, the audit helps to ensure that holders of these permits are systematically monitoring their compliance to the conditions contained in their permits.”
Under the previous regulations, it was left to permit holders in non-mining sectors to be pro-active about maintaining the necessary steps to meet their permit commitments. Now, the authorities will require an independent report from a competent individual or organisation – to prove that compliance is taking place. An independent auditor will be required to conduct a site visit and to assess how the company is complying with their permit conditions.
“The audit is not necessarily onerous,” she said. “It does, however, require that a range of stakeholders are kept informed about the status of the holder’s ongoing compliance with their permit conditions.”
SRK are leaders in environmental and other technical audits across economic sectors, applying a multi-disciplinary approach that includes environmental, water, waste and air quality expertise.
“All SRK’s offices around South Africa have capacity to conduct environmental studies and compliance audits,” said Maritz, “and have decades of experience in sectors including industry, agriculture, petrochemical and water.”