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
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 regulationnot an extra layer of "Vision"is
the key mechanism to help to facilitate achievement of the prescribed
The "Vision" is actively unhelpful
in that it promotes an expansion in the role of the Environment
Agency when effective delivery ofand allocation of resources
toits 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
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 Governmentaccountable
to Parliament and most particularly to your Committeemust
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