Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from Ian Pearson MP, Minister of State for Climate Change and Environment, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the Chairman

  I am writing to update you on the latest developments on the above directive.

  You may recall that Elliot Morley wrote to you on 31 May last year[87], following the European (Parliament's First Reading, and again on 20 June and 20 July[88]—shortly before and after the June 2005 Environment Council. He outlined the proposed text agreed at Environment Council, and reported that it provided a flexible, risk-based approach to groundwater protection.

  On 12 June this year the European Parliament, at its Second Reading, voted through 41 amendments to the Council text. A copy of these is attached. Since most are unlikely to be acceptable to Council, it is anticipated that Conciliation between the European Parliament and Council will commence in September.

  Since the key issue of contention on this proposal—whether or not to have common European groundwater standards for most substances—was resolved to the UK's satisfaction at First Reading, a number of the Second Reading amendments address points of detail which we expect to be satisfactorily addressed during Conciliation. However, several more significant issues, in similar vein to those addressed in the run up to the 2005 Environment Council, arise as follows:

    —  a requirement at Amendment 22 for Member States to prevent absolutely all inputs of hazardous substances to groundwater, although this is impossible to achieve in practice;

    —  a new definition at Amendment 12 of "deterioration" which would could confuse the objective in the Water Framework Directive (WFD) for Member States to prevent deterioration of groundwater from "good" to "poor" chemical status (ie a significant quality change for a large area of groundwater), and simultaneously impose an obligation to control all trivial and temporary fluctuations in quality;

    —  changes in Amendments 18 and 19 to the way standards and threshold values are used for assessing whether groundwater bodies are at "good" or "poor" chemical status, which would result in the application of arbitrary or inappropriate standards and departure from the WFD's risk-based approach; and

    —  deletion at Amendment 36 of specific wording in the Council text aimed at clarifying that the Nitrates Directive is used as a "basic measure" to address agricultural sources of nitrates (as intended in the WFD).

  These issues are likely to generate the most discussion at Conciliation. Our overall objective will continue to be to attain a "flexible, risk-based instrument" which will protect groundwater in a cost-effective way, and we will be specifically looking to avoid the introduction of any conflicts with the Nitrates Directive and the Water Framework Directive.

  I shall write to you again when the outcome of Conciliation becomes clear. In the meantime, if it would be useful to discuss any of the issues informally with Defra officials, they should be happy to attend at the Committee's convenience.

4 August 2006

87   Correspondence with Ministers, 45th Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 243, pp 345-346. Back

88   Correspondence with Ministers, 45th Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 243, pp 346-348. Back

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