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Green laws must be fit for purpose

Paul Vanston

The House of Representatives Bill 861 dated 3 February 2017 has just one sentence: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shall terminate on December 31, 2018.

Outrageous, shocking, yeah man! These may well be some of the expressions wafting their way across The Pond from the USA to be heard by us in the UK.

The EPA’s demise has the support of President Trump and a government that some see as set on removing frameworks for environmental stewardship in favour of unrestrained resource use.

So might the mighty EPA bite the dust entirely?

It’s doubtful. But hey, what do we know. Well, we do know a ten-word Bill is unlikely to be anywhere near enough to dismantle all the US laws that require the existence of the EPA and charge it with duties and powers. Legislative and political processes are, reassuringly, far more complex and comprehensive to allow these ten words to become law without a series of significant battles.

But I’m nagged by the thought a culture which starts in the USA often makes it over to the UK. How might our own EPA, the Environmental Protection Act 1990, fare in the midst of Brexit, the Great Repeal Bill and the clamour for regulatory bonfires?

There have long been calls for our own EPA to be updated. But to discuss the EPA under the enormous shadow of Brexit risks unintended consequences. Some might use the prime minister’s words: “Now is not the time.”

In my mind, now is exactly the time. The over 25-year-old EPA can have a long life ahead in a broader recast that tackles resource sustainability issues for the next 25 years.

Hopefully, once the general election is out of the way, the Defra 25-year plan will be published. I’m sure it will contain a positive narrative on ambitions.

My hope is it’s supported by concrete plans for a new resource sustainability strategy to replace the Waste Strategy for England 2011, and be linked closely to the Industrial Strategy.

My call on the UK government and the value chain is to be emboldened by our industry’s collective ingenuity and positivity in the face of challenges.

Let’s get the agenda moving forward now. Value chain conversations on vision, strategy, investment, resources, and environmental protection are often better advanced within a framework of government-led ambitions, and let’s have a new ambitious and deliverable resource strategy as the goal. In this way we ensure the EPA and related valuable laws are updated, fit for future purpose, and live long.

Paul Vanston, chief executive-designate of Incpen

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