European environment to be protected by criminal law

Polluters, waste cheats and corner-cutting industrialists could all find themselves facing criminal charges, rather than civil penalties, as the EC announces plans to beef up laws covering environmental protection.

There is general approval across the EU for a directive which would see a number of activities become criminal offences in all member states.

It is very unusual for the EC to get involved with criminal legislation – an area usually considered the sovereign responsibility of individual member states.

The new offences would cover serious pollution incidents, the shipment, transport and disposal of waste, improper handling of nuclear materials, operating an industrial plant in a way likely to cause substantial environmental damage, making or selling ozone depleting substances, killing or trading in protected plant and animal species and causing significant habitat deterioration within a protected site.

Initial plans to set minimum penalties within the directive – including jail sentences and hefty fines – have been scrapped during negotiations to win round those opposed to the idea.

Commission Vice President Jacques Barrot said there would be “No more safe havens will be possible for those responsible for polluting our environment,” and that it was: “a very important step towards improving the implementation of environmental legislation”.

Sam Bond

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