"Residents felt they had been kept in the dark, patronised and lectured to."

That was one comment from a NSW parliamentary inquiry into the performance of the Environment Protection Agency.

The report, released on Friday, made 17 wide-ranging recommendations for the EPA to change the way it deals with stakeholders and communities and to rebuild community trust. 

The recommendations, which called for better governance, independence and oversight, also included the removal of the EPA officer currently chairing a steering panel overseeing the controversial mercury contamination problems from the former Orica chemical plant in Botany, in favour of an independent chair.

That recommendation had already been made more than a year ago by an EPA-appointed consultant, Professor Chris Fell, but the EPA had not acted on it.

"The committee was disturbed to hear the comments of Professor Fell about the perception in the community that residents had been 'kept in the dark', patronised and lectured to, rather than listened to," the report said.

Professor Fell noted the lack of any social media strategy to inform locals of the issues. The Hillsdale and Eastgarden Residents Action Group told the inquiry comments made by the EPA chief executive officer during this period further 'triggered unrest and without doubt obfuscated the real issues".

Professor Fell said the trail of errors made in testing for toxic contaminants at Botany was "pretty terrible" and fed the mistrust n the community, but the EPA did not "willingly" mislead people.

An EPA spokeswoman said: "The EPA is carefully considering all the findings from the parliamentary inquiry and would like to thank the parliamentary committee for the opportunity it presented to increase public awareness and understanding about the important role the EPA plays in protecting communities and the environment in NSW." 

The inquiry also looked at coal dust pollution in the Hunter region, ground-water contamination in the Pilliga by Santos and the regulation of forestry practices affecting koalas at the Royal Camp State Forest.

Community groups around the state welcomed the report and said that already the inquiry appeared  to have "lit a fire" under the EPA. Issues that had been dragging on for years were suddenly acted on, some just days before the report was released.

John Mackenzie, spokesman for the Hunter Community Environment Centre, was pleased with the recommendation that the EPA work with the Chief Scientist and Engineer to review the way air quality is monitored for coal trains in the Hunter.

"The recommendation for a more thoroughly scientific approach to coal dust pollution and for greater transparency from the EPA will go a long way to strengthening the confidence of the community that the EPA is acting on this issue," said Dr Mackenzie.

Kate Smolski from the Nature Conservation Council said the EPA has been failing because there has been a lack of political will, lack of resources  and a lack of effective corporate leadership.

"We strongly support the recommendation to separate the roles of CEO and chairman. This arrangement has led to an administrative lethargy that has been very bad for the organisation and for environmental regulation in this state."