Supported by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Environment Agency is an executive non-departmental public body. The Agency was established in 1996 “to protect and improve the environment” their responsibilities are:
- regulating major industry and waste;
- treatment of contaminated land;
- water quality and resources;
- inland river, estuary and harbour navigations; and
- conservation and ecology.
The stated priorities of the Agency are to
- working with businesses to manage the use of resources;
- increasing the resilience of people, property and businesses to the risks of flooding and coastal erosion;
- protecting and improving water, land and biodiversity;
- improving the way the Agency works as a regulator.
The Agency is responsible for enforcing laws that protect the environment. The regulatory effort is directed towards the activities that could cause the greatest risk of serious environmental damage, where the risks are least well-controlled, the regulatory framework is undermined and where deliberate or organised crime is suspected.
When deciding whether to start a prosecution, the Agency uses the same test the Crown Prosecution Service uses. This test that must be satisfied is that there is a realistic prospect of securing a conviction. Generally, prosecution is a last resort, and all other options will be considered first.
To impose a civil sanction, the Agency must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that an offence has been committed. TIn order to accept an enforcement undertaking, the Agency must have reasonable grounds to suspect an offence has been committed. With climate change and mercury civil penalties, the Agency needs to be satisfied that it is more likely than not that a breach has occurred.
The Agency is required by law to publish details of its enforcement action in certain circumstances. Criminal convictions, enforcement undertakings and enforcement/breach notices will all normally be published.
Two men were prosecuted for illegally fishing for crayfish on the River Derwent. Inside their vehicle was found to have crates and wire used to make crayfish traps. One of the defendants was fined £400 with £690 costs, and the other was fined £333 with costs of £683.
The Environment Agency regulates crayfish fishing to protect native clawed crayfish. Commercial trapping can cause the spread of disease from invasive signal crayfish to native white claw crayfish. Licences can be granted for commercial reasons, fisheries management and scientific research.
An enforcement undertaking has been accepted from Yorkshire Water after a sewage discharge led to pollution in Leeds. The Agency alerted the company to discoloured water in Kippax Beck; it transpired storm tanks had filled and were discharging into the watercourse. The system appeared to be operating as normal, and the level alarms had not been triggered as they should have been. The impact affected the beck and wildlife over a 3.3km area.
An enforcement undertaking is a voluntary offer and, in this case, comprised a payment of £300,000 to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. The Trust is to use the money to fund a series of projects at nature reserves in the Lower Aire valley. The undertaking also set out how the company had taken steps to make improvements, review alarms, complete an environmental survey, and replace and repair machinery.
Two company directors and the company secretary of SC Chadwicks and Sons Ltd were prosecuted for breaching Environmental Permit conditions at two waste sites. The main issue at both sites was that more waste was being brought onto the site than was removed, apparently for financial reasons. Maximum waste height limits were exceeded, it was not being processed efficiently, and there was a high risk of pollution from odour and fire. The company ceased trading and left the local council to clear the sites at an estimated cost of £3million. Two of the defendants were sentenced to 10 months imprisonment suspended for eighteen months, and the third was given 14 weeks imprisonment suspended for 18 months.
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[Image credit: “Environment Agency Badge” by Jim Linwood is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 ]