In his speech at a Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum conference on future environmental standards yesterday (18th January), Environment Agency Chief Executive Sir James Bevan’s said that they are “having good conversations with the government” about increases in funding to tackle waste crime.
He said that when the EA works at its best, it is usually by working with rather than against those they regulate: collaborating, innovating and problem-solving. A ‘speaking softly’ approach.
But, according to the EA Chief, he would like to see the future model “carry a much bigger stick” which would make regulated industries pay the full cost of their regulation; currently, a lot of it is subsidised by the taxpayer. It would make them pay the full cost of repairing any damage they do to the environment, which they currently don’t do. And the model would carry much tougher punishment for the biggest and worst polluters. And one other feature would be greater cooperation between the regulators themselves to deliver better outcomes.
When it comes to regulation, Bevan said that “a robust regulation delivers better outcomes.” He also noted that “since 2010, greenhouse gas emissions from the sites the EA regulates have decreased by 50%. Mitigating the extent of climate change by reducing carbon emissions is crucial to tackling it. If we want to mitigate, we need to regulate.”
But with good regulation, the right funding is required. Bevan said that “a core requirement for robust and effective regulation is adequate funding. The Environment Agency’s regulation is funded from two sources: government grants and the charges we apply to the businesses we regulate to cover the costs we incur in regulating them. We think there is a strong case for increases in both of those income streams, and we are having good conversations with the government about that.”
He said that even “a relatively small amount of money can make a big difference”. He gave an example that “a few years ago somebody, possibly me, said that waste crime was the new narcotics – it was big, nasty, profitable and it was ruining lives and livelihoods. The criminals were damaging jobs, growth and tax revenue as well as the environment by undercutting the legitimate waste business.” But in 2018, the government gave the EA an extra £30million and new powers. Funds were invested in local Area Enforcement Teams and innovated with body cameras to gather the evidence required, as well as fostering productive new partnerships with the police and the other agencies by establishing a new Joint Unit for Waste Crime where tracking and target is put in place to go after the criminals.
The result was huge, and in 2020, they stopped illegal activity at 722 sites and inspected hundreds of shipping containers which prevented the illegal export of more than 11,000 tonnes of waste.
He concluded that ‘none of this would have been possible without regulation. The right regulation is not deregulation”. He added: “however differently we think, however softly we speak, and however big the stick we carry, let’s remember the point behind all of this: to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it”.
To read the full speech, go to www.gov.uk