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New civil powers will mean greater environmental protection at lower cost to business

The Environment Agency today became one of the first organisations to be granted new civil powers to complement existing regulatory powers. This will mean fairer and more effective environmental regulation.

Regulation has resulted in greater environmental protection and an improving environment in England and Wales. Water quality, for example, is at its best for two decades and salmon and otters have returned to rivers across the two countries for the first time since the industrial revolution. Now, to further these improvements, more flexible powers will be used that make it easier and more cost effective for businesses to operate within environmental laws.

A series of civil sanctions will give the Environment Agency the discretion to avoid the time consuming and costly process of having to take businesses that commit certain types of offences to court. These will include monetary penalties, the power to make business repair environmental damage and the power to stop businesses from continuing operations that are damaging the environment. Organisations will also be given a formal opportunity to restore voluntarily any damage they cause. The new powers will not replace the Environment Agency’s approach of using advice and guidance and are expected to be used sparingly. The Environment Agency will still take criminal cases against business and individuals that cause deliberate, reckless and grave environmental damage. Such activities also often undercut law abiding business.

The Environment Agency was recently praised during an assessment by the Better Regulation Executive (BRE) for reducing its administrative and financial burden on business. The BRE also applauded the Agency’s focus on protecting the environment rather than employing a bureaucratic regime of regulation. The Environment Agency was assessed against the Government’s Better Regulation Principles. Adoption of those principles reduces the administrative burden to the minimum while maintaining the UK’s excellent track record of compliance. Independent auditors on behalf of BRE scrutinised the Environment Agency’s performance over the last two years, in particular reviewing the organisation’s good relationship with the industries it regulates. Business now saves £36 million per year of costs as a result of action the Environment Agency has taken to improve how it regulates.

Dr Paul Leinster, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, said: ‘Having had such a successful outcome from Government’s review of our regulation is a great achievement. It allows us to focus on protecting people and the environment.

‘This is an ongoing journey for us. Businesses appreciate the benefits of a regulatory approach that makes it easier for them to protect people and the environment. However we recognise there is still more we can do to become the best regulator we can be and to clamp down quickly and effectively on the few businesses that cause significant damage to the environment and harm to people.’

The Environment Agency will be consulting business from 15 February 2010 to help shape how the new powers will be implemented. It contains a number of proposals including: the methodology for calculating Variable Monetary Penalties (VMP) our revised approach to enforcement and sanctioning; and proposals for our governance structures and monitoring requirements for the use of civil sanctions.

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