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Ex-EA chair warns of erosion of environmental regulations

Springfield Park, Clapton. Image by Fin Fahey

A former chairman of the Environment Agency (EA) has warned of the dangers of green regulations being eroded after Brexit and accused ministers of having stifled the agency’s public voice.

Lord Chris Smith, who led the EA from 2008 until 2014, is worried that, after the UK leaves the EU, vested interests will erode legislation safeguarding aspects of the environment including habitats, air quality and emissions. He also feared for the ability and determination of the EA to uphold standards.

In a blog for the Green Aliance, he wrote: “We are all going to have to be vigilant, campaigning and determined to ensure things don’t go horribly wrong.”

Specifically, he is concerned about the the EA’s responsibility, enshrined in law, to provide impartial advice to the Government about the state of the environment.

“Without fear or favour, the agency was charged with the role of telling it as it is, speaking the truth about what was happening to the environment, and the threats and challenges, even when it might be inconvenient.”

Smith said he used to do so publicly. In 2008, for example, he spoke out about nitrogen oxide levels around Heathrow airport, calling it “madness” to build a third runway.

He accuses ministers in the 2010 coalition Government of not wanting such advice in the public domain.

“Speaking out is incredibly important. The denigration of expertise and evidence we are seeing across the entire political landscape, the reliance on gut instincts, on bluster and sweeping assumptions, rather than basing decisions on fact and proper analysis of what is needed: these are amongst the most deeply worrying features of our current politics.

“Sadly, some in our own environmental movement sometimes resort to the same tactics. But the only response can and must be the painstaking assembly of, and restatement of, evidence, fact and truth. We cannot and must not fight bluster with bluster.”

Meanwhile, the Guardian has reported that Britain would be forced to abide by key EU environmental regulations by a pan-European court as part of any Brexit deal.

The paper says the strategy is set out in a leaked document detailing the negotiating ’red lines’ being drawn up by the European Parliament.

MEPs are said to be ensuring that the UK would not be allowed to damage the wider European environment after withdrawal by unilaterally weakening commitments to reducing pollution emissions and protecting wildlife.


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