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Environment Agency given new enforcement powers

The Environment Agency became one of the first regulators to be granted new civil powers by the Government that will give it greater flexibility to enforce environmental law, potentially giving it more powers to stop fly-tippers and illegal waste dumpers.

The EA state that the new civil powers under the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008will mean fairer and more effective environmental regulation.

A series of civil sanctions will give the EA the discretion to avoid the time-consuming and costly process of having to take businesses that commit certain types of offences to court.

This 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 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.

An EA spokeswoman said the sanctions could potentially give the EA more powers to stop fly-tippers and illegal waste dumpers

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said: These new powers will help make the system fairer for the law-abiding majority of businesses and will give regulators a practical and effective alternative to prosecution. The EA and Natural England, the first bodies to be given these powers, will have access to flexible and proportionate sanctions that will strengthen the protection of the environment and human health when tackling businesses who break the law.

The new powers were designed to create a modern and targeted system that will give regulators greater flexibility to impose more appropriate sanctions on non-compliant businesses.

EA chief executive Dr Paul Leinster said: 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.

Minister for Business and Regulatory Reform Ian Lucas added: Creating a more flexible and proportionate regulatory system is at the heart of the Governments better regulation agenda.

It will mean businesses will benefit from a more straightforward process with sanctions that better fit their non-compliance and send a clear signal that the worst offenders should receive the toughest criminal penalties.

The EA will be consulting business from February 15 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;
  • A revised approach to enforcement and sanctioning; and
  • Proposals for the EAs governance structures and monitoring requirements for the use of civil sanctions.

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