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Companies "completely under-prepared" for new environmental fines

Thousands of small to medium-sized businesses in the waste industry are completely under prepared for a new regime of strict environmental civil penalties that come into force on 6 April, warned a legal expert.

The Environment Agency will become one of the first regulators to be given greater flexibility to enforce environmental law, such as the Hazardous Waste, Packaging and Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations under the Environmental Civil Sanctions Order 2010.

Any firm found breaking the above laws could be subject to a new regime of civil as opposed to criminal fines and penalties (see MRW story).

Pinsent Masons planning and environment senior associate Simon Colvin told MRW that while some businesses were aware of the new law, he warned that small businesses were still unaware and that the new requirements could impact on their operations. Firms could be fined up to £250,000 for environmental breaches.

Colvin said: The advantage of companies understanding the new penalties is being able to suggest to the regulators that a civil penalty is more appropriate than a criminal one, rather than relying on the regulators to present the enforcement options.

The new powers will not replace the EAs approach of using advice and guidance and are expected to be used sparingly. The EA will still take criminal cases against business and individuals that cause deliberate, reckless and environmental damage.

Colvin said: Its both good news and bad news. The fact that the regulators will now have a wider range of powers is good as they will be able to impose more proportionate penalties.

However, the fact that the penalties will be imposed directly by the regulators, rather than being imposed by the courts, might mean we see an increased frequency of enforcement action against businesses than has previously been the case. The burden will then be on businesses to appeal.

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