Environmental Review Committees: Guidelines for Victoria’s Mineral and Extractive Industries
Who are these guidelines for?
These guidelines outline the expectations of the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources ('the department') - Earth Resources for anyone setting up or taking part in an Environmental Review Committee (ERC) within the mineral and extractive industry sectors.
The guidelines incorporate recommendations from the former Department of Primary Industries’s June 2008 Review of ERCs.
The information that follows is of a general nature and is not specific to any region in Victoria.
Background about ERCs
What is an Environmental Review Committee?
An Environmental Review Committee (ERC) is a group of stakeholders who review environmental performance relating to a mine or quarry. ERCs most commonly include site representatives, local council, relevant government and non-government organisations and representatives from the local community. Environmental issues may include, but are not limited to, noise, dust, weed management, visual amenity and water discharge related to the site.
The decision to form an ERC may be voluntary or it may be a condition of operation for selected mines and/or quarries. Although an ERC does not have a legislative basis, it is a formal opportunity for stakeholders and the community to state their concerns and to seek clarification from the mine or quarry operator.
ERCs provide opportunities to explore alternative strategies and to build on industry and community commonalities and alliances. ERCs have been a powerful avenue for community and agency consultation in the Victorian mineral and extractive industries since the 1980s.
Who are the stakeholders?
A stakeholder is any agency, company, group or individual involved directly with the mine or quarry. This may include industry, community, local/state/federal government departments, community groups, Indigenous groups, conservation groups, surrounding community, non-government organisations, small businesses and immediate neighbours.
The focus of ERCs is usually local to the operation, therefore ERC members are generally drawn from those groups or bodies with an immediate interest in the mine or quarry.
What is the role of an ERC?
The key role of an ERC is to review a mine or quarry’s environmental performance against the requirements of legislation. This may include the operator’s licence/Work Authority, Work Plan, Environmental Management Plan/Program (EMP) and any other related environmental performance commitments made in binding statutory management plans. This includes environmental impacts on and off-site.
The ERC is both a mechanism and an opportunity to:
- comment on the mine or quarry’s environmental performance
- review and comment on new proposals, work plans and work plan variations
- provide information about general operation performance
- discuss community concerns and endeavour to resolve their concerns
- improve community understanding about earth resources and the role of government
- establish good working relationships between the mine or quarry operator, the community and other stakeholders.
The traditional focus of ERCs has been reviewing environmental performance. However, given the recent inclusion of community engagement requirements in legislation, ERCs may provide an additional opportunity for mine or quarry operators to seek feedback or to review their performance against these requirements. More information about community engagement, including Earth Resources Community Engagement Guidelines and other alternative community engagement techniques, are listed in Appendix 1.
Why set up an ERC?
Generally ERCs are established as a condition of an approval to operate. In some cases ERCs are established voluntarily.
Earth Resources may consider the formation of an ERC as a condition of operation, depending on the project:
- anticipated longevity
- proximity to sensitive environmental or community locations
- potential for adverse impacts
- Environmental Effects Statement (EES) recommendations.
Who is responsible for setting up an ERC?
Generally, it is the mine or quarry operator’s responsibility to set up and maintain the running of an ERC. When setting up an ERC is a condition of operation, then the operator has a legal obligation to do so to comply with their licence/Work Authority. Alternatively, an operator may choose voluntarily to set up an ERC as part of their company policy or in response to a high level of community interest.
The department may be able to offer initial support and advice about setting up an ERC.
When should an ERC be established?
The recommended time to establish an ERC is either before, or shortly after, the construction of an operation. This is one of the more sensitive phases of a new project, as public concerns relating to noise, dust, operating hours, traffic and blasting are often heightened. Forming an ERC from the start ensures that the community and other stakeholders can form meaningful relationships and also potentially provide useful input into how environmental issues are managed.
How much authority does an ERC have?
An ERC has no legislative authority, however ERC members from decision-making bodies do have the power to follow up on issues of non-compliance or environmental concerns.
Although the committee cannot approve or vary a work plan, or authorise an enforcement action, it may make recommendations or suggestions. Such recommendations are generally considered by the department, local council and other government agencies when assessing proposed changes to the site, or considering compliance or enforcement action.
Operation of the ERC
What is discussed at an ERC meeting?
An ERCs purpose is to review a mine or quarry’s environmental performance. During an ERC meeting, the mine or quarry operator is expected to report on environment-related activities, such as the results of monitoring noise, dust, blasting impacts, surface and groundwater quality, weed management, rehabilitation works progress and any other environmental issues from the EMP, Rehabilitation Plan and Work Plan. This information should be compared against compliance requirements and ERC members should be given an opportunity to ask questions or seek further clarification. Any community concerns and necessary follow-up by operators should also be discussed.
It is important that information is presented in a format that stakeholders and the community can readily understand. Strategies for presenting information in a simple, clear and non-technical manner can be found in Appendix 2.
How often does an ERC meet?
Most ERCs meet quarterly but this can vary from site-to-site. At the set-up stage of site operations, when there are usually a number of issues, more frequent meetings are normal. Conversely, there may be times in the life of the site where there are no issues of concern and an ERC may opt to meet as required rather than maintain a fixed schedule of meetings. An ERC can determine its own meeting schedule provided this does not conflict with any prescribed requirements.
ERCs should be mindful of the circumstances of ERC members, particularly community representatives, and ensure that the timing and location of meetings enable full participation where possible. Each year, ERCs should make it an agenda item to discuss whether their meeting time and location is still suitable for community representatives.
Who is involved in an ERC?
Each ERC is different, however, core membership of an ERC usually includes:
- an officer from the Earth Resources Division
- company representative(s) from the mine or quarry operator (including the Environmental Officer)
- community representatives (usually 2-3)
- a local council representative.
Other bodies that may be involved include the:
- Environment Protection Authority (EPA)
- Crown land manager
- Department of Environment and Primary Industries DELWP - formerly DEPI and DSE)
- Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)
- Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF)
- Indigenous groups
- local environment and community groups
- local water authority
- non-government organisations.
The department actively encourages the participation of other government agencies and interest groups to ensure that all stakeholders have an opportunity to contribute, and that all issues are adequately addressed. Stakeholder involvement may be on a short or long-term basis. Sometimes, as part of approval conditions, certain government bodies may be recommended to attend ERC meetings regularly.
How are community representatives selected?
To ensure transparency, community representatives should be selected by a neutral organisation such as the local council (ie. not the mine or quarry operator). Selection criteria should be clear, and reasonable measures should be taken to guarantee all relevant stakeholder interests are represented and, if possible, representative of the area’s demographics.
To attract local community representatives, a suitable local notification process should be undertaken. This may include:
- an advertisement in the local paper and/or in a community newsletter
- notices at community focal points (for example, shops, post offices or community centres)
- a letterbox drop.
Depending on the number of applicants and the nature of the community, community representatives may be selected by the community at a locally advertised public meeting or through an interview process.
What qualities should a community representative have?
The selected representatives need not have any technical background but should ideally have strong links with the local community.
A community representative should have the following qualities:
- an interest in activities at the mine/quarry site
- a willingness to contribute positively to meetings
- an ability and willingness to represent community interests and to provide feedback to members of the community
- an ability to look beyond personal interests
- willingness to work together on a common challenge.
Ideally, community representatives will include neighbours or those living close to the site and, as a group, should geographically represent all areas local to the site, not just a single location.
Informing the wider community about their community representatives
Letters should be sent to the elected community representative(s) to advise them of their successful appointment and the proposed length of time they will be asked to serve on the ERC. Ideally, the council or Earth Resources will publish the names of community representatives in the local paper to inform the wider community.
Generally, a community representative will be appointed to an ERC for a 36-month period, however this may vary from site-to-site.
If I am not a community representative can I still attend an ERC meeting?
ERCs can be open meetings, enabling non-committee members or observers to attend, or they can be closed and limited only to nominated representatives. The preferred ERC format is determined by ERC members at the start up of the ERC.
If observers are able to attend, they are required to sit in the gallery. Observers should be mindful not to interrupt proceedings and their involvement should be managed by the chairperson.
Selecting a chairperson
The role of the chairperson is crucial to the success of ERC meetings. The chairperson must be fair, trusted and reliable. As in the running of all meetings, the chair must keep control of the meeting and ensure the meeting remains focussed.
An independent chair is the preferred option to ensure openness and transparency of the ERC meeting. A councillor/council representative may be appointed for this role. Where circumstances and workload permit, Earth Resources officers may chair ERCs where no other candidate is available.
Conduct of meetings
Establishing operating rules
ERCs should consider development of an ERC code of conduct or charter for operation. If this is done it is important to ensure all members are involved in forming the code and agree with the end product. The Code of Conduct will be different for each ERC, but should include general topics such as:
- a mission statement outlining the purpose of the ERC. If the ERC has been set up by an approval condition, it is likely that the purpose will already have been defined.
- the responsibilities of mine or quarry operator, community representatives, Earth Resources officer and various stakeholders.
- the details of the ERC structure, including membership and the roles of any observers. This may include matters such as terms of appointment and reprimands for non-attendance.
- the details of how the ERC will operate, for example, how often the ERC will meet, when minutes will be distributed and general ground rules.
An example of a code of conduct can be found in Appendix 3.
Setting an agenda
A meeting agenda and the previous meeting’s minutes should be sent to all ERC members before the meeting. All members should have the opportunity to add items to the agenda.
To ensure meetings do not run overtime, at the beginning of each meeting the chairperson should remind members of the primary purpose of ERC meetings and confirm set time limits for each agenda item. Each meeting should begin with confirmation of the accuracy of the previous meeting’s minutes, followed by action items from the previous meeting. In general, it is recommended that an ERC meeting does not exceed two hours.
An example template that combines agenda and meeting minutes can be found in Appendix 4.
Recording meeting minutes
Generally, the mine or quarry operator is responsible for providing administrative support to the ERC, including the taking of meeting minutes and their distribution.
Minutes should be kept of all ERC meetings. Generally, minutes should record attendees, apologies and action items from the previous meeting, The minutes should also record issues raised, actions to be undertaken, persons responsible and the due date. Meeting minutes may also record reports tabled and general business. At a member’s request, the minutes should record that member’s views on any matter.
An example template that combines meeting minutes and the agenda can be found in Appendix 4.
Reporting to the wider community
ERC members should use both formal and informal means to report information covered at ERC meetings to the community. Avenues for communication may include placing meeting minutes in public places, creating a mailing list/newsletter, open days at the mine or quarry, public information sessions and/or local media releases.
Setting up an ERC
We have just started an ERC. What do we need to consider?
You will need:
- a room that will fit 10-15 people in an accessible and acoustic-friendly location
- enough tables and chairs for participants (it’s best for chairs and tables to be around one table to allow for free-flowing discussion)
- enough space for a public gallery, if appropriate
- light refreshments (coffee, tea, water)
- overhead projector/laptop/whiteboard (optional)
- map/aerial photograph of the mine or quarry site and surroundings
- enough handouts for all participants.
The first ERC meeting
The first meeting of a new ERC should include a discussion about the role and responsibilities of the ERC, nomination of a chairperson (if not already determined), and agreement about the location and times the ERC will meet. The first meeting could also be an opportunity to develop a code of conduct or charter.
More hints about establishing an ERC can be found in the ‘Quick Dos for establishing an ERC’ table that follows.
Quick Dos for establishing an ERC
Who to select or appoint?
Establish clear criteria against which to assess applicants or appointees.
If possible, set a criteria that represents a range of interests and geographical locations.
It is important that the process is open and transparent – clear criteria enables you to do this.
It is important to have a range of community members so that issues are resolved holistically.
Advertise broadly through easily accessible means – such as community notice boards, direct invitations, school newsletters, local newspaper.
The idea is to make it easy for people to find out about the ERC and selection process.
Indigenous representatives/minority groups
Allow plenty of time for minority groups where possible so that they can consider whether they wish to, and who will, participate in the group. Allow for two positions – no-one likes being regarded as the ‘token’ rep.
Meeting set up
Try to find somewhere neutral and easily accessible. An ERC meeting will often include a site inspection, so there may be merit in having the meeting on or near the mine or quarry site.
If company premises must be used, make an extra effort to make them welcoming and unimposing.
The idea is to create an environment that reflects the mine or quarry operator’s willingness to work with people.
A comfortable, neutral location – even if it is on company turf – will send a positive message about this willingness.
Consider holding an ERC at different times each meeting if that suits members. Add ‘time and place’ as an agenda item at least once a year to determine if alterations need to be made.
Holding meetings during business hours may be convenient for employees, but not for community members. It’s important that the time and place are flexible and set so that the maximum number of stakeholders can attend.
Hold meetings around a round table.
Mix participants up a little so that it does not suggest a ‘them and us’ situation. The chairperson should be able to see everyone easily.
Circles mean that everyone should be able to communicate with each other.
The room set up can assist the management of group dynamics and influence the behaviour of participants.
The idea of an ERC is to make it easy for the committee to exchange information and encourage discussion, thus giving the opportunity to improve relationships.
Have a short break halfway through the meeting.
Supply water, tea and coffee.
Don’t have any alcohol, unless it for a special celebration.
It is important to have breaks to allow people to recharge their batteries and also create informal networking opportunities.
Providing drinks and small snacks shows that you appreciate members giving up their time and value their presence. Remember, not all ERC members are being paid to attend, or even have to attend.
Welcome people warmly and thank them for giving up their time.
Allow space for people to say something about themselves.
The aim is for people to feel valued and willing to work together.
It can break the ice for people to get to know each other as people, as well as their role as representatives.
Reaffirm the purpose for the ERC being formed and invite comment early. Ask people why it is important for them to be there and what they hope to achieve. Print the purpose out on a piece of paper and give to all members or stick on a wall if possible.
Recognise that some matters of importance to the representatives may fall outside of the scope of the ERC Terms of Reference. Acknowledge them, yet confirm the purpose.
There may be multiple purposes for the group. Clarifying the purpose and reiterating from time to time can be useful to focus attention.
For the first meeting, there may be some value in encouraging people to air their concerns even when these may fall outside of the ERC’s purpose, so that these can be heard. Arrangements can then be made for issues outside the ERC’s purpose to be discussed after the meeting, or at another time.
Ground rules/code of conduct
Suggest ground rules or, if time is available, invite the group to build their own code of conduct.
After developing the code of conduct, have a conversation about the role of the chair being to uphold this understanding. Try to gain commitment and ownership of the agreement.
Forming an agreement about how the group will operate can provide confidence in the meeting processes.
Commitment to a code of behaviour can help avoid a number of problems. It allows the group to determine what is important about the way the group will be facilitated.
Clarify expectations about participants and the sponsoring organisation. Allow people time to discuss any concerns and/or their aspirations.
Defining roles helps to make clear who is going to do what. People are apt to make assumptions so, rather that impose roles, talk them over to provide clarification.
Keep information simple with easy-to-understand graphs and pictures. For hints on how to do this, see Appendix 2.
People need to be kept interested and engaged otherwise they will lose interest. More technical information may be introduced as the ERC progresses and members understand more technical terms.
Take the time at least once a year to recognise and celebrate what the group has achieved.
It is important for people to reflect to see what has been achieved and to ensure members receive recognition for the value they have added. If members can see that the value of an ERC they will continue to attend meetings and participate.
Key features of a successful committee
The term community is considered inclusive and members of a community can be broad and diverse. In the context of these guidelines, however, community refers to an individual or group of individuals who live close to a mine or quarry operation, who have an interest in the environmental impacts of the site.
Community Engagement (CE)
CE involves interactions between identified groups of people and involves processes that are linked to decision making or problem solving.
A condition is any requirement that forms an essential part of an approval to operate.
Earth Resources Industry
Earth resources is a collective term for the minerals, extractive, petroleum, geothermal, geosequestration and pipeline industries.
Environment Effects Statement (EES)
An EES is a document that identifies impacts of an earth resource operation on the environment, and proposes ways to reduce the risks associated with those impacts. This information informs the EMP, Work Plan, conditions and other associated management plans as necessary. The EES process involves public consultation.
Environmental issues are issues that cause, or have the potential to create, an environmental impact as a result of an earth resources operation. This may include, but is not limited to, noise, dust, weed management, visual amenity and water discharge and also risks to public safety and infrastructure.
Environment Management Plan/Program (EMP)
An EMP details how the mine or quarry operator plans to manage the environmental aspects of the earth resource site. It is part of the Work Plan, which is a legal binding document.
The operator is the person or company who operates the mine or quarry.
A stakeholder is an individual or a representative from an agency, company, group or organisation who is involved with, or affected by, the earth resource site.
The Work Plan covers the detail of on-site works associated with the mining or extractive operation and includes an EMP, CE plan and a rehabilitation plan that outlines subsequent rehabilitation of the land.
A Work Authority allows mine or quarry operators to work. A Work Authority is granted after the Work Plan is approved by Earth Resources and planning approval has been given, and all other consents required are in place prior to the commencement of work.
Appendix 1: Community Engagement information and techniques
In 2008, the department produced Community Engagement Guidelines for Mining and Mineral Exploration in Victoria. These guidelines are available online and provide assistance to industry about the requirements for community engagement under the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 and the Mineral Resources Development Regulations 2002.
An ERC is one method of engaging with the community, however it should not be the sole method. Where an ERC is not the best option or preferred process for community engagement, there are numerous other engagement techniques available. These include:
- Community Consultation Committees
Structured similarly to ERCs, these committees aim to consult on a range of broader issues, not just environmental issues. It is advisable to set up Consultation Committees during the early development stage, as this is when concern is low and there is less likelihood of hot issues to divide the community.
- Community Reference Groups (CRG)
A CRG is a forum to provide information to and from the local community, agencies and the mine or quarry operator. A CRG meets at regular intervals and its primary function is to discuss environmental issues and community concerns related to the operation. CRGs are generally used in the petroleum industry and operate in a similar way to an ERC.
- Focus Group or Workshop
This is where a small number of participants are invited to work together in a group on a common task, for example, planning an open day, or determining which areas will be prioritised for tree planting.
- Information Session
An information session is where information is provided or exchanged between a party/group of parties. An information session is different to a public meeting as it is about information sharing rather than informing a decision-making process.
- Newsletter/articles in local paper/letter box drop
Monthly or quarterly updates will ensure that communication is kept open between stakeholders.
- Open days/market place
An open day/market place is similar to an information session, however it’s a little more informal. The format involves setting up a series of stalls so that people can wander around at leisure, seek information and ask questions one-on-one.
- Public meeting
Public meetings offer an opportunity for people to express concerns and to gain a broader perspective of concerns in a short period of time. Generally, it is expected that a decision will be made at, or after, a public meeting, and that some level of consultation will occur. In controversial situations, it may be best for the public meeting to be facilitated by an independent body.
- Public submission with comment opportunities
A public submission is a formal way of submitting a report/potential variations and seeking feedback.
- Site visits
Mine or quarry site visits are an opportunity for community members to see what is happening on the ground. This is a very effective community engagement technique and can also be a potential educational opportunity.
A website is a good way to share information to a wide audience about current events or the latest developments. Whilst a website is a great source of information provision this should not be used as the sole method of communication.
Appendix 2: Presenting information to non-technical people
It is important to remember that not everyone has a technical background and therefore information should be presented in a clear and easy-to-understand manner. This is particularly necessary at the start of ERCs.
Good points to note:
- Initially explain your methodology/how you got the results.
- Show maps of where measuring devices have been set up, and bring examples of devices so that members can understand how they work.
- Compare existing levels and compliance levels in simple and clear graphs.
- If not complying to environmental standards (for example, noise), break the issue down further and provide an explanation.
- Ensure committee members understand compliance levels, what legislation they relate to, how they are measured and, most importantly, what they mean. For example: 4 gm/m2/month – how much dust is this? Relate it to something that can be easily comprehended and compare to normal levels.
- Show the history of the mine and explain significant events.
- Show the results of any studies done. Offer copies to committee members where relevant.
- Don’t use acronyms that are not well known.
- Consider presenting in other languages (if appropriate).
- Allow people to ask questions.
- Paraphrase to check understanding.
- Regularly hold site visits for ERC members.
- Draw diagrams on a whiteboard to show how things work, if further clarification is required.
Appendix 3: Example of a code of conduct
Moondale Environmental Review Committee
The ERC has been established to review environmental issues regarding the Moondale Mine. They will accomplish this by:
- improving industry knowledge and understanding of community interests and concerns
- improving community knowledge and understanding of industry policies and activities related to the environment and government legislation
- encouraging industry, community and other stakeholders to work together.
Membership – The Moondale ERC comprises the following members:
- staff from Moondale Mine site (2)
- community representatives (3)
- representatives from Moondale Shire (1)
- Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) (1)
- EPA (1)
- Moondale Water Catchment Authority (1)
Observers – Observers may attend ERC meetings to listen to proceedings. They will not be permitted to formally participate in the conduct of the meeting unless authorised by the chair.
Terms of appointment – Community representatives are appointed for 36 months. Once this period lapses, community representatives must reapply to sit on the ERC.
Participation in meetings – Each member will make their best effort to attend all meetings to maintain continuity and understanding of the issues. If three consecutive meetings are missed without an apology, the community member will be approached and may be asked to step down or send another representative.
Meeting agenda and minutes – It is anticipated that the ERC will meet every three months. The chair will work with the mine or quarry operator to prepare the agenda for each meeting. All members are able to make suggestions. Minutes and apologies will be distributed to all participants within four weeks of the meeting.
Communication with press and other organisations – The chairman can only speak for the entire committee and his/her comments should accurately reflect the committee’s activities as documented in the meeting minutes.
- respect the views of others
- keep an open mind
- allow everyone to speak by not dominating conversation
- criticise issues, not people
- be prepared for each meeting. If you miss one, it is your responsibility to catch up before the next meeting
- turn off your mobile phone.
Appendix 4: Example of template for agenda and meeting minutes
|Agenda & Minutes –||
Welcome and apologies
Acceptance of minutes of last meeting
Action items from previous meetings
Issues could include:
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