The head of the environmental watchdog has resigned after a year of intense scrutiny, in which he referred the body to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Barry Buffier, 71 – once described by Opposition Leader Luke Foley as “the most powerful public servant in NSW” – served as chairman and chief executive of the NSW Environment Protection Authority since 2012.
This year, a Fairfax Media investigation revealed significant problems with the way the EPA policed illegal asbestos dumpers and questionable policies around land contamination.
Asked about Mr Buffier’s main achievements on Monday, Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton referred to his “significant career in the public sector”, thanked him and wished him well in retirement.
In his time at the helm, the EPA introduced the Hey Tosser!anti-littering campaign, remediated lead contamination at Broken Hill and worked to reduce air pollution in the Upper Hunter region.
But Mr Buffier’s organisation has also faced prolonged criticism over forestry, pollution and waste problems.
Fairfax Media has exposed how authorities, including the EPA, struggle to deal with long-term asbestos dump sites, including some in Sydney backyards.
The EPA had also adopted a policy of not declaring significant contamination of residential land, for fear of hurting property prices.
An independent review – the third in four years – called that practice “sensible” where the contamination was properly managed, but faulted the EPA’s confusing, unwieldy guidelines.
In August, the ABC’s Four Corners program exposed the extent of interstate waste trafficking, as NSW operators truck waste to Queensland to avoid levies.
Mr Buffier then referred the authority to the ICAC because Four Corners “implied that the EPA had acted corruptly through inaction”.
He defended NSW anti-dumping laws as some of the strongest in the country but said the EPA needed community trust to do its job.
More recently, the authority was attacked for its handling of the new container deposit scheme that gives people 10?? per empty bottle.
Shooters and Fishers MP Phil Donato said people in rural areas were already paying more for beer and soft drink in costs passed on by suppliers but could not find any collection points nearby.
Mr Buffier, who holds a bachelor’s degree in rural science and a master’s in economics, joined the EPA after serving as director- general of the Primary Industry Department.
A parliamentary inquiry recommended in 2015 the EPA improve its governance by making sure one person did not occupy the chairman and chief executive roles at once but the government left Mr Buffier in both.
Ms Upton would not comment on whether the roles would be split.
The chairman of the NSW Nature Conservation Council, Don White, said: “The conservation movement has felt the EPA under Mr Buffier has at times identified more closely with the industries it regulates than the communities whose interests it is supposed to protect.”
But Professor White said “it is the government’s job to make the EPA work effectively by staffing and funding the organisation adequately”.
Macquarie University professor Mark Taylor said Mr Buffier “has left the EPA in much better shape”, leading its modernisation in challenging circumstances.
“However, there is still a significant amount of work to do as evidenced by the recent high-profile issues related to contaminated land management, asbestos and waste,” he said.
Mr Buffier’s departure comes after other recent changes to the top rungs of the EPA.
The former head of waste, Steve Beaman, shifted to become head of hazardous incidents and environmental health, swapping roles with Sarah Gardner, who has resigned to take up a New Zealand council position.
The EPA’s chief environmental regulator, Mark Gifford, was set to act in Mr Buffier’s place when he leaves on January 8.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.