Environment Agency calls for larger fines to prevent pollution

‘Pocket change’ fines are doing little to deter the environmentally unfriendly actions of some businesses, according to Environment Agency (EA) findings in the Spotlight on business environmental performance 2002.

Major fishkill caused by bleaching agent - Moor Ditch, near Southmead Industrial Park, Didcot

Major fishkill caused by bleaching agent - Moor Ditch, near Southmead Industrial Park, Didcot

Of the poor performers, 20% were repeat offenders, indicating that lessons from previous convictions had not been heeded. Amongst the companies persistent in their non-compliance were: United Utilities, Anglian Water Services Ltd, Thames Water Utilities, BP Oil (UK) Ltd, TotalFinaElf, 3C Waste Ltd and Tesco Stores Ltd.

Despite many perpetrators being multi-million pound companies, and non-compliance with environmental standards often being financially rewarding, the most significant fine to one company totalled £327,000 over 29 prosecutions – but the average fine was just over £8,000.

“We must make fines commensurate with the environmental impact and with the turnovers gained in non compliance, for these big businesses,” said Sir John Harman, Chairman of the Environment Agency.

However, this year serious pollution incidents are down 21%, along with a 34% decrease in particulate emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions from Agency regulated processes were reduced by 2%.

Speaking at the launch of the fifth annual report this week, Barbara Young, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, noted the worrying trend in prosecutions for fly tipping which amounts to 14% of all serious pollution offences. She also noted that fly tipping could save the offender thousands of pounds.

The waste industry in England and Wales continues to be the most frequent polluter, with this sector containing the most companies fined over £10,000, according to the EA’s findings. Whilst the water sector had the greatest total of fines – amounting to almost £1,000,000, with management failure continuing to be at the root of the cause (see related story), according to the Agency.

Anglian Water, who were fined £285,000 for 12 offences in 2002, said their pollution events were regrettable and that they would work closely with the EA to ensure high standards. They also pointed out that bathing water standards were the ‘best ever’, something which Ms Young described as a ‘great success story’.

BP who were fined £60,000 last year for a fuel leakage in Luton which put the local water supply in jeopardy, told edie that they aim to operate to the highest possible environmental standards and that they will continue to work with the EA. The spokesperson refused to comment on the whether fines were significant enough to make big business environmentally conscious.

The report also compiled a list of ‘good performers’ containing companies who have improved their environmental record over the past year. These include: Rockwool Ltd, French-Kier Anglia, Ltd, Castle Cement, AEP Energy Service and LaFarge Cement.

The Agency also reported a 79% pollution reduction for the metals sector; a 41% reduction for the construction industry, whilst farming has reduced pollution by 20%. Ms Young also commended the overall improvements in air quality, which she said had been driven by regulation.

The EA has introduced risk based charging, intended as an incentive to companies to obey environmental regulations. “This is a concept whereby companies with high risk, but poor management of those risks, pay more in licensing than companies with high risks but good management. The principal of polluter pays is firmly at the heart of this concept,” an Agency spokesperson told edie.

“We want to show that the sustainable approach really is the best practice and that good environmental practice goes hand in hand with good business,” said Ms Young.



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