A proposed amendment to the Environment Bill would give the government a ‘get out of jail free card’, according a Greener UK campaigner.
The proposed amendment was tabled by the Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow, ahead of the Bill’s return to parliament for debate.
It would provide Defra’s Secretary of State with the power to issue mandatory guidance on the new green watchdog’s enforcement policy – including on its investigations into public authorities’ failures to comply with environmental law.
This is a clear and simple weakening of environmental protection. Our nature, air and water quality is being put at further risk. We urge ministers to reconsider
The Environment Bill is intended to empower the government to introduce environmental legislation once the UK leaves the EU.
To replace the role of the European Commission following Brexit, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will be created as an ‘independent watchdog’ responsible for holding the government to account on its environmental commitments.
Get out of jail free card
However, concerns have been raised that this amended would give government the power to direct the OEP’s enforcement of environmental law.
Ruth Chambers of Greener UK said that changes were ‘only necessary if the government wants to control a body charged with holding it to account’ and provided a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the government.
Greener UK is a coalition of 13 major environmental organisations, with a combined public membership of over 8 million. It includes Greenpeace, WWF, Friends of the Earth and Green Alliance.
These changes are only necessary if the government wants to control a body charged with holding it to account.
Ms Chambers said in a statement: ‘These changes are only necessary if the government wants to control a body charged with holding it to account. They provide a “get out jail” free card for government to direct the watchdog away from awkward or inconvenient cases, completely undermining claims that it will be independent.
“This is a clear and simple weakening of environmental protection. Our nature, air and water quality is being put at further risk. We urge ministers to reconsider.’
The OEP, according to government, will set out to ‘monitor the Government’s progress towards improving the natural environment and will investigate complaints regarding failures of public bodies to comply with environmental law’.
The body will be legislated through the landmark Environment Bill, which sets out to enshrine environmental principles into law and introduce measures to improve air and water quality, tackle plastic pollution and restore habitats so plants and wildlife can thrive, according to Defra.
The watchdog scheduled for creation in 2021, subject to the Bill gaining Royal Assent.