Outlining the Agency’s achievements, Chief Executive, Ed Gallagher, said that through both a collaborative approach and by taking a hard line, the Agency has made considerable advances.

Over 4,300 businesses and individuals have been successfully prosecuted for environmental pollution, with fines amounting to £2.8 million. However, Gallagher was disappointed with the decrease in the Milford Haven Port Authority’s fine imposed for its negligence over the Sea Empress disaster. He is also concerned by attempts by industry to change the law with regards to incidents such as these. There are, nevertheless, signs that penalties are increasing, said Gallagher, with a recent fine of a quarter of a million pounds, though the average is still £3000. It was also noted that for one large company in particular to take notice of environmental issues, sums of over £50 million had to be involved.

The Agency’s policy of naming and shaming companies engaged in polluting the environment is working, says Gallagher, though there has been an increase in waste pollution incidents, possibly due to factors, such as increased environmental reporting, or through the new landfill tax.

A quarter of a million visits were made to licensed sites during the year to ensure compliance with licence conditions, and over 7,000 enforcement actions were carried out, according to the Agency. More stringent limits have also been set to protect against emissions from coal and oil-fired power stations.

With regards to flood control, the Environment Agency has created its new National Flood Warning Centre, and established the Floodline information and advice service, which generated 50,000 calls in its first three months.

The Agency has also revised the discharge limits at Sellafield, significantly reducing the permitted levels of discharges of five radionuclides. They have also surveyed nearly 6,500 kilometres of river for fisheries purposes and, according to Gallagher, fish and otters are returning to areas where they have previously been absent.

Outlining the Environment Agency’s commitment to the future, EA Chairman, Sir John Harman, stated that the Agency believes it has some part to play in removing inequalities in the environment, where the poorest members of society are often faced with the most pollution.

In order to carry out its role of being both a champion for the environment, and the regulator, the EA intends to bring environmental issues more into the public policy debate, and to become more aware of best practice elsewhere and apply it in the UK. “Not ducking challenges, in the end, is what our vision is about,” said Harman, though he pointed out that other institutions and agencies must also play their part.

“Our primary aim in the Environment Agency is to contribute to sustainable development,” said Harman. “I believe that in the coming century it will come to pass that what is good for the environment is good for business as well (see related story).”

“If the Environment Agency really wants to tackle environmental injustice then it must significantly reduce health-threatening pollution in the poorest parts of Britain,” said Mike Childs, Senior Pollution Campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “Furthermore, it must do more to force UK companies to reduce their global impacts. The poor in developing countries suffer most from the effects of environmental damage, and the Agency regulates some of the companies which are partly responsible.”

Copies of the Annual Report and Accounts, the Annual Environmental Report and brief summaries of each are available to the general public by telephoning the EA on 0845 933 3111 or by emailing sara.mansell@environment-agency.gov.uk.

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