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Coffey: scrutinise waste directors as sector 'fed up with cowboys'

The Environment Bill may lead to greater scrutiny of future owners of energy-from-waste (EfW) plants, and take into consideration other non waste-related ‘bad’ behaviour when considering applications to build facilities.

The Bill also seeks to remove the TEEP (technically, environmentally and economically practicable) exemption on what local authorities are required to collect.

These comments came from resource minister Therese Coffey during a debate introduced by Labour MP John Grogan on waste incineration regulation in Westminster Hall on 9 April.

Grogan had argued that the Environment Agency (EA) should be more robust in enforcing the waste hierarchy so that recycling rates did not suffer at the expense of EfW facilities. He also wanted to ensure the EA more closely scrutinised the behaviour of applicants outside of the industry.

Grogan specifically complained that Rajinder Singh Chatha, a director of Endless Energy, which has applied to build an EfW plant in his constituency, has been deemed by a tax tribunal as not fit to sell or distribute duty-suspended alcohol.

Grogan quoted from the tribunal saying Chatha was “intentionally misleading about some of the explicit lies that the tribunal has found were told to HMRC”. He added: “I will be writing to the chair of the EA to ask how it can possibly trust a man who the tax authorities say cannot be trusted.”

Coffey said: “I am very conscious of the quality of people being considered. That is another reason why we are starting to make changes, which I hope the Environment Bill will strengthen, that will allow the EA to assess the different offences that people may have committed.

“At the moment, it is restricted specifically to issues surrounding waste. We are broadening that out.”

But she added: “I do not know how that would apply to the issue to which [Grogan] referred about somebody not being licensed to sell alcohol… I assure him that the industry is fed up with cowboys.”

Grogan began the debate reiterating long-standing calls to place a moratorium on building any new incinerators, quoting a 2017 Eunomia report saying that additional capacity was already at 4.8 million tonnes.

He quoted the Treasury as saying last year it was supportive of an incineration tax once infrastructure had been put in place to reduce the amount of plastics incinerated. Grogan said the Government should stop “flirting with the idea” of taxation and that it was “now time to act on it”.

He also argued that the money raised should be given to local authorities to help them boost recycling rates.

Coffey said that, despite improving recycling rates, EfW will continue to have “an important role in diverting waste from landfill” and that, if the 65% recycling waste targets are not met and progress is not made quickly enough, there will be a lack of incineration.

Labour Co-operative MP Barry Sheerman declared his financial interests in EfW, and praised plants that fed electricity into the grid and utilise the heat produced, arguing that they were a “valuable part of the balance that we need”.

He added: “We can never recycle everything, and if we do not have that balance between good quality energy from waste, recycling and minimising throwing stuff in holes in the ground, we are lost. I would love that sort of facility in my constituency, where we have an old-fashioned incinerator but all the heat goes out into the atmosphere.”

Coffey quote on TEEP: “Under the proposals that we have put out in the consultation, which we hope to include in the Environment Bill in the next session of Parliament, there is a specific removal of that TEEP exemption on what councils will be required to collect for recycling. It will determine not how they collect it but what they collect.”

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