The Environment Agency has responded to the Government’s Environmental Principles and Governance Bill consultation, saying the new watchdog should not replace or duplicate the role of other bodies, including the Environment Agency (EA).
The Environmental Principles and Governance Bill was unveiled by Government with an aim of ensuring environmental protections will not be weakened as the UK leaves the EU.
As part of the Bill, government is consulting on what it’s calling a “world-leading” environment body to hold government to account for environmental outcomes in place of the European Court of Justice.
In response to the consultation the EA says these new arrangements will help protect and enhance the environment for future generations. It says this will help ensure that the new body can hold the government to account when the UK leaves the EU.
The EA says it agrees with government that this new body should not “replace or duplicate” the role of other bodies, including the EA.
“The Environment Agency itself already plays part of this role by providing unvarnished and evidence-based advice to government on environmental policy, law and the state of the environment, and by commenting publicly on these issues.”
“Government may face pressure to reduce environmental standards in some areas,” the EA states in its response. “There should, therefore, be an independent and authoritative voice able to speak publicly for the environment in such cases, and ensure the continued maintenance of high environmental standards as the UK leaves the EU.
“The Environment Agency itself already plays part of this role by providing unvarnished and evidence-based advice to government on environmental policy, law and the state of the environment, and by commenting publicly on these issues. We therefore think the proposed role for the new body in this respect will sit well alongside the existing role of the Environment Agency.”
The EA says it’s also important that existing EU law requirements on the government to report information to the European Commission on the implementation of EU environmental law are replaced with a requirement on the government to publish appropriate reports.
If reporting obligations are lost this would affect the ability of the new body to be able to properly scrutinise the implementation of environmental law and policy and give appropriate advice to government.
The EA says penalties for failure to meet any potential targets that are put in place are important and should “ideally” be maintained.
Currently, the EU systems sees member states fined for not adhering to environmental requirements. The EA, however, says fines levied by an independent body on an arm of the government simply “reallocate finite government (taxpayer) money”.
“Although fines could be spent on environmental schemes for the wider public good (a form of environmental undertaking),” it says, “this could reduce the budgets of bodies that were already responsible for protecting the environment.”
Martin Baxter, the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA) chief policy advisor, said IEMA welcomed the “overarching themes of the Bill”, and offered advice on what must also be included in the published legalisation to ensure it achieves its aims.
“The broad direction of the Bill is on track,” he said. “However, IEMA members do want to see far more ambition than is currently outlined in the consultation if we are to meet the Government’s intention to leave the environment in a better state over the next 25 years.”
IEMA has raised concerns that the draft bill provides a narrative that there is a need to “trade-off” between the environment and the economy – something the IEMA response has labelled outdated, unfounded and unhelpful” as long-term economic growth relies on good environmental stewardship and innovation to resolve sustainability challenges.
IEMA has set out a seven-point plan to enhance the Act’s proposals, which will ensure it meets the Prime Minister’s ambition for the environment. In its response, IEMA says the forthcoming Environment Act needs to provide, as a minimum, a framework for:
- Legally binding goals supported by numerical targets, milestones and metrics for key environmental outcomes such as biodiversity, freshwater quality and availability, air quality and soils;
- Five-yearly updates to the 25 Year Plan aimed at achieving the goals and targets, based on independent advice;
- A fully funded and resourced five-year programme of activity that will deliver actions to meet targets and milestones;
- Improved monitoring and reporting on the state of the environment using mapping and modelling that is more accessible and understandable to the public;
- An overarching “duty of environmental responsibility” on public and private activity affecting the environment that changes the default so that e.g. government departments, public bodies, businesses and potentially others have a basic duty to act responsibly towards the environment, or to take account of the environment in making decisions;
- Cross-Whitehall regulation, incentives and taxation designed to protect the environment and stimulate genuinely sustainable development and economic growth;
- Effective, place-based governance and resourcing to allow communities and local and regional bodies to work together to protect and enhance the environment at a meaningful scale.
Click here to read IEMA’s full Environmental Principles and Governance Bill response.