Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 340 - 359)



  340.  We had evidence a couple of weeks ago that many of the NGOs start off with what you might call a busybody in a locality who would then gather people around. Can the Environment Agency do anything to encourage that? Can it have little organisations starting up?
  (Mr Barker)  Within Russia I am not sure it would be appropriate for the Environment Agency to do that. They have very much a cultural aspect. I would say that certainly part of the Ecological Committee's funding was for going into schools and universities and talking and educating people on the environmental issues of their region and they did that positively. From the programmes I saw I felt it was a very valuable contribution to make sure that the whole population was raised in terms of their environmental awareness.


  341.  In the course of what you are dealing with, when you are talking about implementation and statutory rules and things of this particular nature, you must touch on the point that NGOs do play an important role in this country. If you are dealing with water, the first people to start observing problems are the anglers. They scream at you before you have a chance to turn round. Is there anything of this nature, which I think is really what we are interested in?
  (Mr Barker)  There is certainly a system where any member of the public can contact the right organisation. It may take a period of time for it to get to the Ecological Committee for them to investigate and do something about it but there are the local environmental committees within the overall Tomsk Ecological Committee so they have local people they can go to, and they have the education programme. They also have a public prosecutor who can receive information either from industry or from members of the public and who can decide if either industry or the Ecological Committee is carrying out its role under the law. So there are a number of avenues—some of them would be perhaps bureaucratic to our way of thinking—there and existing. How they develop will depend on how the culture and the market economy develops.

Lord Judd

  342.  We recently, some of us, were in Brussels and I was struck by the division that operates in the relationship with Russia and the Ukraine and others between concerns about nuclear issues and other environmental issues. I just wonder how far this division is realistic and how far you might sometimes have got the impression that, along with all the other things we are dealing with, we are dealing with the small change of environmental issues as far as these countries are concerned and, unless we get the nuclear aspect right, we might as well forget it.
  (Mr Barker)  I can talk about the Tomsk experience in that there will potentially be a very large change if they exploit their natural resources to the extent they wish to and, therefore, it is important now (and they recognise this) for them to ensure that there is appropriate environmental regulation to ensure that that development does not harm the environment. The Tomsk region does have one of the largest concentrations of nuclear power stations, and Seviersk just outside Tomsk is one of the largest ones. The local Ecological Committees will monitor activity in ground water and air. It is still, as I understand it today, a State function to regulate inside the Tomsk nuclear centre and its risks and therefore, as such, we did not talk to the national regulators inside the Tomsk nuclear centre.

  343.  But did you form an opinion about this?
  (Mr Barker)  There is a significant issue recognised very much within the Tomsk region that it is a factor of greater importance which they need to develop a way forward on, but I think that is an interaction between the oblast and the State Protection Committee. It is an important issue.
  (Dr Leinster)  We are also of the opinion that the other environmental issues which are there are also important. It is not one or other: it is a matter of making sure that there is a proportionate and balanced response. How you decide on that balance and proportionality is the difficult question.

Countess of Mar

  344.  Is that your opinion, or the opinion of the people in the Newly Independent States?
  (Dr Leinster)  That is my opinion.

Lord Walpole

  345.  I was going to ask you about person-to-person but I really think you have answered that question extremely well. I feel most encouraged that representatives of this country are actually talking to people about these problems. When it comes to TACIS itself though, neither of you were operating under a TACIS umbrella, were you?
  (Mr Barker)  There are two Tomsk projects. The Tomsk project which is setting up the MSc is under the TACIS-Tempus programme.

  346.  The impression we got when we were out there was that, in fact, education and the type of thing you are doing was very good and appreciated very much by both sides. What actually happens when you get on to the hardware—actually designing waste disposal and that sort of thing—where you get in waste disposal consultants? Does that remain person-to-person, and is it actually what you want?
  (Mr Tempany)  We have not really got involved in that.

  347.  Perhaps it is an unfair question.
  (Mr Tempany)  I think that is something on which we would expect to be dealing with our opposite numbers in Russia and advising them how we go about managing that and how we might deal, for instance, with consultants and how we give them guidance, for instance, in the use and operation of landfills and say, "That is how we do it. Can we answer any questions on this? Can we make it clearer?". We are offering our risk assessment packages which they are quite interested in. It is very much about how you manage a situation that we are trying to develop with them. They were quite keen to say "What is your specification? How would you completely nail this down?", and we tend to have a site specific approach on many of the environmental problems in this country. That is what we were saying to them—that we had a risk approach and this is how we manage it.

  348.  One of the problems we found on waterworks, for instance, was that the whole thing depended on people paying their water rates and we gather less than 50 per cent of people do. It struck us that the managers there were obviously very concerned about this; they did not really understand the financing of it, but unless they are actually paid their rates they cannot pay their wages, can they?
  (Mr Tempany)  Yes. We came across one or two examples. One that struck us personally was that within Moscow they have just changed, as part of another World Bank project, to direct charging for waste collection so the Moscow Waste Company charges each apartment block. Now, some pay and some do not, and you can walk down the street seeing which ones do and which do not and you have areas of small compounds with shuttering behind some of the apartments and some of those had been fired, so the net effect of this World Bank initiative was probably to increase pollution and risk to public health. When we were there it was not that bad but people were actually setting fire to them and causing risks from the fumes and so on. That is an example of inappropriate advice from the west trying to do something that works in Washington but not in Moscow.

  349.  How did you find the State Committee for Environmental Protection? Are they easy to work with or not?
  (Mr Barker)  We did not work with the whole of the Environmental Protection Committee. We worked with a number of individuals—two directors in the waste project, and the director of the Ecological Committee in Tomsk is a member of the Committee. We found those people, as individuals, co-operative, easy to work with and with an open relationship, provided one bore in mind what I said before about being honest and open with them. The experiences with individuals were good.


  350.  Could I ask a related question to that, namely, of course, one of the important features in any assessment of environment is the actual data and the compilation of the data. I am not sure but do these areas actually contribute to the European Union and the Environmental Agency data and the Dobris type of reports? There are certain parts of the world that do make those contributions but, if they do, how reliable are the data? Do you have any experience of the collection of data in that particular area?
  (Mr Tempany)  I am not sure whether they contribute to the European Agency yet but we were told that, yes, data were supplied from the oblast to the centre but they were not sure themselves how good the quality of this data was. In some areas it was good but in others it did not fit in with the data that they were getting from elsewhere and they thought it was poor quality. It was something they were aware of, however, and technically I think they have the ability to collect that data.

  351.  How much interaction do you have directly with the European Environment Agency as an Agency?
  (Dr Leinster)  We have a number of contacts with them. For example, recently we ran a joint conference between the Environment Agency for England and Wales and the European Environment Agency on bridging the gap and looking at this whole question of data collection. What is appropriate data to collect; why do you collect it; what do you do with it; what of the data that we have been collecting in the past, for historical reasons should we now stop collecting. So we have contact with them on dealing with those sorts of issues, and regular contact. And there was a board member of the Environment Agency who was also a board member of the European Environment Agency.

Lord Middleton

  352.  In the light of your experience of running courses, would you like to see greater effort in this direction and, if so, where?
  (Mr Tempany)  I think we certainly enjoyed being involved. We have ideas about how we might follow up on those courses but it is not for us to say how much we should do of that or in what particular direction. We are tasked by Government through DETR in our management statement to raise the standards of environmental regulation—not only in the UK but in Europe—and to contribute to its improvements overseas and I think this is what we feel we have been doing. That has to be funded by taxpayers' money and is something we would carry out in a measured way at the moment. We have other larger priorities.

  353.  Can I ask a very general question? Do you have any specific ideas or general principles, based on your experience on working with the Russians, which this Committee could usefully incorporate in our recommendations to the Commission?
  (Dr Leinster)  In general we believe there should be a co-ordinated approach to assistance and that co-ordinated approach should be within an overall clear project plan which has clear and distinct objectives so we actually know why things are being done and that those objectives support an overall strategic approach. Along with that, there need to be clear implementation plans on "Once you have done this project how will this then be implemented throughout Russia". The projects need to be viable in the long term and be demonstrably viable in the long term and they also, we believe, need be to linked in with the State so there need to be contacts within the State system to ensure they are viable in the long term as well.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

  354.  Can you think of any examples of what you have learned through working in Tomsk in Russia that you have actually applied to your work back here in the UK?
  (Dr Leinster)  I think it re-emphasises some of the issues like needing to have good communication. As you go and look at other situations then you start thinking "Well, how do we do that", so in areas like communication, from devising policy through to implementation and how do we ensure consistent implementation; learning or relearning or re-emphasising for ourselves that we need to do those aspects well.

  355.  At a technical level, have you learned anything?
  (Mr Tempany)  It is very early days. We are pleased to establish contact and we think, from our discussions with them, that they are very well advanced on our risk assessment packages and modelling programmes and we would like to share those with them, but we have only just come back—our party went back to Russia just under two weeks ago.

Lord Middleton

  356.  Very quickly on TACIS support, when we had evidence from the OECD they told us there was hard feeling in the NIS that TACIS had not translated your Agency's assessment report into Russian. Does that criticism still hold?
  (Mr Barker)  I am not aware whether they have or not. Certainly on the project in Tomsk they have a number of excellent English speakers and some of those students at university were going to translate some of our documentation as part of their work but I do not know whether they have done it yet—or whether TACIS has done it yet.


  357.  Could I just ask you this: I can understand why people would want to get involved in certain areas of Russia's environmental problems but what do you see is a tangible result of being involved in it—not in the short term but the long term? Do you see a future that is of importance to this country?
  (Mr Tempany)  Yes, I think so. There are really big steps to be made in Russia. The Russians have also made a commitment to come into line with European directives and are, therefore, looking to be part of a larger Europe. It was discussed when we were in Moscow that this type of work contributed to helping them achieve that, certainly. It is part of our direction from the Department to improve environmental regulation standards. There is a development in the UK to develop contacts and to put over, with our Russian and other Eastern European partners, our point of view so when we are in international negotiations, such as the Basle Convention, those people will at least have a better understanding of our viewpoint. Certainly our trip has promoted a better understanding of how we are managing, for instance, transboundary shipment of wastes and I think it will certainly decrease the transboundary effects of pollution which has a tangible benefit.

  358.  If we look at pollution, you did touch on the point that, in fact, much of the development was being done with western advice. I think that was true. You were referring to oil—I think you said a Canadian chemical was coming from the European base as a whole. One of the big problems is the historical pollution which is evident there, which is enormous. You refer in your remarks to 200 years of mining and things of this particular nature, which must have a vast impact on the ecology and the groundwater developments and things like this. Where is the emphasis going in that second (rather than the first) part?
  (Mr Tempany)  We took with us several key messages. We discussed what we wanted to say to people. We were well aware as regulators ourselves of what we would, if you like, welcome from another regulatory body coming in—for instance, if it was a team of Americans coming to see us. One of the things we felt was that to stop things getting worse was a key priority and actually to target what resources they had. We know those resources are a problem to them. Although the Agency has on paper what are to the Russians massive resources, we are still not able to do everything all at once. So we were talking to them about gathering data, which you have talked about earlier, assessing the problems, risk-ranking and risk-assessment, so that they put their resources to the best advantage and in a planned way.

  359.  Finally from my point of view, are there any other countries in the European Union which are doing the sorts of things you are doing from an environmental point of view? You have mentioned Holland, but what about other countries?
  (Mr Tempany)  Yes, I think there are several. I am aware that the Norwegians are heavily involved in the Baltic States—Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania—and they are putting quite a large amount of their effort there. They feel that they can get a better improvement of their home environment or protect their home environment better by improving the environmental standards the other side of the Baltic Sea, particularly referring back to the nuclear installations, by putting some effort back into there rather than putting more money into what they feel is quite a good situation.

  Chairman:  If there are no other questions, may I, on behalf of the Committee, thank you very much indeed. It has been extremely useful, and we have learnt quite some useful features today. Thank you very much.

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