Air pollution controls must not be compromised

The Government is proposing to deregulate certain processes under the LAPPC regime - a move which could seriously undermine environmental standards. Andrew Cluett explains why

Air pollution is accepted by the EU and UK Government to have major consequences for public health. Despite this, in February Defra announced the first stage of its consultation on proposals to review air pollution controls on thousands of polluting factories and industrial processes currently regulated by the local authority pollution prevention and control (LAPPC) framework.

The consultation was launched in the name of "better regulation" but it is impossible to see the consultation as anything other than an attempt to cut UK environmental standards. This could potentially lead to increased emissions of dioxins, particulates, ammonia, lead, cadmium and other dangerous pollutants.

Under the 1990 Environmental Protection Act, air pollution from over 17,000 factories and industrial process is controlled by local authorities under the LAPPC regime. Many of these factories are based in heavily populated areas and they are predominantly in poorer areas that suffer disproportionately from poor local environmental quality.

LAPPC controls are not required under EU law and it this lack of EU requirement that has formed the basis of the Government's proposals. However, the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) is urging the Government to look at ways of cutting red tape without undermining environmental protection.

EIC's industrial air pollution control working group believe that any review of the LAPPC regime should focus on how to reduce the damage to public health resulting from air pollution by improving enforcement, and should ensure that no steps are taken which increase air pollution.

Of particulate concern
Particulate matter is the major emission pollutant of concern in many of the processes under threat of deregulation. Given that the current review of the National Air Quality Strategy concluded that particulate emissions reduced life expectancy in the UK by 8 months in 2005 at a cost of £9.1B to £21.4B per annum, any thought of deregulating particulate generating processes has to be of great concern for human health.

EIC believes that the proactive approach in the LAPPC regime is essential to effective industrial pollution control. A key part of this approach is continuous, or at the very least regular, monitoring of processes - especially in relation to particulate. Monitoring ensures transparency and that abatement plant failure incidents are detected rapidly and ahead of major incidents.

As part of the consultation, Defra proposed alternative frameworks, such as a statutory nuisance regime, as a way of providing sufficient controls to reduce emissions.

However, the problem with a statutory nuisance regime is that it puts the onus on the individual to prove a company has created a statutory nuisance rather than the company to control their emissions responsibly.

It has proved extremely difficult in practice to use statutory nuisance to control pollution. It is precisely because emissions are monitored with a regulatory requirement to take action on alarms that emissions from these processes are minimised at the moment.

However, there may be scope for supporting the current regime through alternative instruments. For example, EIC has recommended including Part B processes in the pollution inventory so that local people can have simple web access to pollution from their local processes. This would support LAs in enforcing the regime and may in time lead to a lower requirement for enforcement.

Defra recently announced the conclusions of the first stage of its consultation process and despite pressing ahead with its proposals, the consultation results included a commitment to ensure that the Government will not undermine environmental protection.

While this commitment is a step forward, it remains impossible to see how proposals to remove some processes out of LAPPC controls can lead to anything other than a decline in environmental protection.

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