The Polluter Pays: New legislation to scrap limits on penalties

New laws will scrap the current £250,000 limit on civil penalties that can be imposed on those found to be polluting the environment and will target a much wider range of environmental offences

While the most serious cases will still be prosecuted under criminal law, in the case of other offences the new legislation will make it easier for the Environment Agency and Natural England to impose penalties, offering a quicker method of enforcement than lengthy and costly criminal prosecutions.

grayscale photo of cityscape

The penalties levied will be proportionate to the degree of environmental harm, the size of the operator, and the degree of responsibility and harm.

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said: ‘Polluters must always pay. We are scrapping the cap on civil penalties and significantly broadening their scope to target a much wider range of offences – from breaches of storm overflow permits to the reckless disposal of hazardous waste.

‘It builds on action being taken right across government to stand up for our environment – tackling pollution, protecting delicate ecosystems and enhancing nature.’

Polluters will now face unlimited penalties and new powers will also enable these higher penalties to be levied as a civil sanction for offences under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016, under which the majority of Environment Agency investigations take place. This will strengthen regulators enforcement powers and will hold all those with environmental permits – from energy and water companies to waste operators and incinerators – to greater account.

Environment Agency Chair Alan Lovell said: ‘We regularly prosecute companies and individuals through criminal proceedings, but these new powers will allow us to deliver penalties that are quicker and easier to enforce, even though the most serious cases will continue to go to court.

‘That should be an important deterrent – boosting compliance across a range of sectors, driving down pollution and safeguarding the ecology and prosperity of our natural world.’

The amendments to legislation will be approved by both Houses of Parliament before coming into force.


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11 months ago

And at the local level? As I know a fair bit about air pollution now, my friends were asking if it was worth their while to complain at their local council desk. They want to know just how much pollution their nextdoor neighbours are allowed to pump out. Specifically, is there an official hourly, or even just daily, health & safety threshold that should not be exceeded? How would my friends be able to establish the level? Can the council be expected to send anyone to check? They are referring diesel fumes from their neighbour’s car that is left stationary for maybe 20 mins on the shared driveway in the morning (while the father listens to the radio and the mother gets the kids ready for school). And then there’s the neighbours’ pungent woodsmoke falling everywhere and making my friends cough, they say. I know there are levels set by the WHO and Defra (not so stringent) but I believe those are for the whole year and I assume they are averaged out over the seasons and night and day. Are there really no daily local limits? If not, then anyone can get away with anything and I’m not happy telling my elderly friends that. They have tried talking to their neighbours but it goes nowhere. Are there really no restrictions? I suspect the smoke would have to be really thick and dark for it to be called a “nuisance” by the council but where does that leave anybody with regard to health?

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