Environment Agency Seeks Tougher Penalties on Polluters

Craig MacKenzie
Craig MacKenzie

Published: August 18th, 2023

7 min read

The Environment Agency is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of numerous regulatory and criminal offences. As an alternative to criminal prosecution, financial sanctions can be imposed under the guidelines of the Environmental Civil Sanctions (England) Order 2010.

In an announcement this week, the Environment Agency stated that it was seeking to remove the existing cap of £250,000 on penalties. Instead, they aim to replace it with unrestricted financial sanctions. Furthermore, the Agency would seek to introduce unlimited variable monetary penalties as a civil sanction in the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016.

The removal of the overall cap for variable monetary penalties will apply to all the existing offences covered by variable monetary penalties under the Environmental Civil Sanctions (England) Order 2010 and the Environmental Civil Sanctions Regulations 2010. They will be extended to cover the offences under the Environmental Permitting Regulations.

At present, under Environmental Civil Sanctions Order and the Environmental Civil Sanctions Regulations, variable monetary penalties can be used for offences under the following legislation:

  • Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975
  • Salmon Act 1986
  • Environmental Protection Act 1990
  • Water Resources Act 1991
  • Water Industry Act 1991
  • Environment Act 1995
  • Water Act 2003
  • The Sludge (Use in Agriculture) Regulations 1989
  • The Environmental Protection (Disposal of Polychlorinated Biphenyls and other Dangerous Substances) (England and Wales) Regulations 2000
  • The Control of Pollution (Oil Storage) (England) Regulations 2001
  • The Water Resources (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003
  • The Hazardous Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2005
  • The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007
  • The Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007
  • The Nitrate Pollution Prevention Regulations 2015
  • The Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution (England) Regulations 2018 (Farming Rules for Water)

Extending variable monetary penalties to the Environmental Permitting Regulations will mean that activities regulated under an Environmental Permit will also be included. These activities are:

  • manufacturing
  • power generation and other combustion processes
  • storage, treatment, use and disposal of waste, including scrap metal
  • discharges to surface water and groundwater
  • radioactive substances
  • activities using solvents
  • mining and extractive industries
  • flood risk activities
  • pig and poultry farming

In a statement, The Environment Agency, commented:

"This offers regulators a quicker method of enforcement than lengthy and costly criminal prosecutions - although the most serious cases will continue to be taken through criminal proceedings.

The changes will ensure regulators have the right tools to drive compliance across a range of sectors, strengthening enforcement and holding all who hold environmental permits to greater account - from energy and water companies to waste operators and incinerators.

All future environmental fines and penalties from water companies will be put into a new Water Restoration Fund, which will be re-invested back into the environment by supporting local groups and community-led schemes."

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