Commission takes one step closer to fulfilment of ‘polluter pays’ principle

The European Commission has published a draft directive on environmental liability, which aims to either prevent significant environmental damage, or ensure that restoration takes place.


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The proposed directive is the result of consultation on a white paper on environmental liability published in February 2000 (see related story). According to the draft, “whenever possible, in accordance with the ‘polluter pays’ principle, the operator, who has caused the significant environmental damage or who is faced with an imminent threat of such damage occurring, must ultimately bear the cost associated with those measures”.

The type of environment that the draft is concerned with is that where biodiversity that is protected at Community and national levels, and where waters are covered by the Water Framework Directive and human health. Where biodiversity has been damaged, those involved will be liable if they are at fault or have been negligent. Where no one can be held liable, member states will have to adopt all necessary measures that ensure that the needed preventative or restorative measures are financed through any method they see fit.

The draft directive also supplies provisions for issues such as transboundary damage and financial security.

With regard to the economic effect of the draft, the document states that there are already many contaminated sites within the European Community, with health risks and loss of biodiversity dramatically accelerated over the last decades. Lack of Community action on liability for damage could result in the continuation of this trend, with increasing soil and water contamination. When each Euro spent on prevention is likely to avoid damage where restoration is likely to cost more, the parties responsible are more likely to invest in prevention, says the directive.

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