Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Environmental Services Association (ESA)

  We very much appreciated the opportunity to give oral evidence last week and thank you also for the opportunity to comment further on the role of the Environment Agency. As I suggested last week, we think it is more helpful to respond to your invitation in a more systematic than personalised manner.

  That said, as it happens, ESA broadly supports a fair measure of the rhetoric of the current Chairman and Chief Executive of the Environment Agency. We also recognise that, although there are many obstacles to overcome, the Agency is at least trying through "Project BRITE" to find solutions to some problems your Committee, we and others have previously identified in organisation and staffing. We support the increasing emphasis the Agency places on risk-based regulation.

  The Environment Agency has an important role to play in promoting sustainable development: only a genuine and broad-based partnership will deliver a more environmentally sustainable economy. However, we strongly believe that it is for the Government to determine the UK's environmental strategy and policy. There is a real danger that the Agency's increasing activity as yet another environmental "champion" will be at the expense of its central and vital function as an impartial regulator which still demonstrably leaves ample scope for improvement.

  The current flood of European legislation and regulation makes the need for a clearly focussed environmental regulator more pressing than ever before. As I hope we illustrated last week in the specific context of the framework needed for investment in hazardous waste infrastructure, we believe the most effective contribution the Agency can make towards the promotion of sustainable development and the raising of environmental standards is to deliver consistent and pertinent regulatory services of high quality.


  In January 2001 the Environment Agency published "An Environmental Vision" to inform planning and decision-making. While, again, ESA happens broadly to support the aims of the "Vision", the framework for delivering greater protection and enhancement of the environment is already in place through EU Directives and informed to a large extent, by the sixth European Action Programme and international protocols such as the Basel Convention and the Kyoto agreement. Once transposed into the UK's national law, strong and effective regulation—not an extra layer of "Vision"—is the key mechanism to help to facilitate achievement of the prescribed environmental standards.

  The "Vision" is actively unhelpful in that it promotes an expansion in the role of the Environment Agency when effective delivery of—and allocation of resources to—its core function is sadly lacking.

  For example, while conceding that regulation by authorisation and licence will still have a central role, the "Vision" wants the Agency increasingly to take on board other solutions which include, for example, economic instruments and other non-regulatory approaches to achieve the sustainable use of resources.


  On 6 December 2001, the Environment Agency issued a press release underlining its commitment to being an "effective environmental advocate" and calling for three major shifts in waste strategy. The press release quotes Sir John Harman as saying, "the Agency is determined to be a key player in the policy change process" and proposed various waste management policies.


  The Environment Agency regularly comments on economic incentives to encourage more sustainable waste management. For example, in response to the Environmental Audit Committee Select Committee Inquiry into the 2001 Pre-Budget Report, the Agency promoted in its written memorandum the conversion of the landfill tax into a waste disposal tax and commented that "this is vital if the UK is to deliver on its waste strategy, without constructing costly and unpopular incinerators." ESA considers this statement to be emotive and subjective: unhelpful qualities when the Agency's primary duty is to be the objective regulator in England and Wales of facilities helping to take the UK towards compliance with the Landfill Directive.

  There are many instances of officials of the Environment Agency trying to lead rather than to regulate management policy on a range of specific issues and it is not difficult to produce examples of partisan literature produced by the Agency. That ESA sometimes finds itself in agreement with the regulator is beside the point: if we are to have an effective regulatory system inspiring public confidence, the Government—accountable to Parliament and most particularly to your Committee—must govern and the regulator should concentrate on regulating.

  If DEFRA's Ministers and officials are failing to prepare the UK for compliance with EU legislation, then this must be transparent. Similarly, if the regulator is failing to regulate, this must be transparent. We all lose when opacity of responsibility clouds transparency of outcome.

Environmental Services Association

8 July 2002

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