In 1993, an ENDS survey highlighted the widespread failure of companies to understand the fundamental concepts of the new integrated pollution control (IPC) regime. Fewer than half of the 328 applicants surveyed made any attempt to justify the techniques they proposed to use (ENDS Report 227, pp 3-4 ).
A new survey, sponsored jointly by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency, suggests that history may be repeating itself with the implementation of the new IPPC regime.
Consultant Ian Housley revealed the main findings at the annual EMF conference in London in September. The survey, which was conducted in July, covered 40 applications including 14 from the paper sector, five from waste, four from incineration, six from combustion, and three from chemical activities. The remaining applications came from the quarrying, metal plating, glass and asbestos sectors. All of the paper mill applications and three of the others were for existing operations. The remaining 24 were for new installations.
Mr Housley's key finding was that "BAT was not argued sufficiently or adequately". While many companies had provided a good technical description of the installation, they failed to justify their operations or improvement plans as BAT.
The Agency's general guidance requires companies applying for new installations to use techniques that meet the indicative requirements set out in sector-specific guidance. It would be difficult for an operator to justify a new operation using techniques that did not meet these requirements. The guidance says: "If you propose to comply with the indicative requirement, you need only describe how you will do so."
However, Mr Housley says that many firms neglected even to do this. Some applications failed to use the term BAT - others simply offered bald assertions. Applications written by consultants tended to be more comprehensive, he added.
One difficulty is that for many sectors neither the sector-specific guidance nor the EU BAT reference document is yet available. In such cases, applicants may have to fall back on old IPC guidance.
The apparent failure to provide adequate BAT justifications is surprising, not least because the basic principle became widely accepted under IPC. It is possible that operators are seeking to test out the Agency's resolve under the new IPPC regime.
The lack of adequate BAT justifications in the paper sector is explained by the Agency's decision to allow companies to base applications only on descriptions of the current operation. Paper companies have as long as three years to submit further information. The concessions were granted because many mills had no experience of the IPC regime (ENDS Report 310, p 36 ). The result is that many applications do not explain whether the techniques currently used are BAT or what the operator proposes to do to move towards BAT in future.
In the early days of IPC, the Agency's predecessor HM Inspectorate of Pollution attempted to address the shortcomings in applications by formally requesting further information. In many cases, industry stonewalling and the sheer number of applications forced HMIP to fall back on issuing authorisations with conditions requiring the submission of the missing information. It remains to be seen whether the Agency will take a more robust line on inadequate applications.
The survey also found great variations in the amount of information in their applications, with some being excessively long. Applications varied from 29 pages to 1,700 - the average was 452 pages, and these tended to be the better ones.
Tim James, the Agency's expert on IPPC in the paper sector, told the conference that "too many companies are using the wheelbarrow principle in applications, saying: 'Here's everything I know about my company, the information you want is in there somewhere.'"
One example concerned two companies certified to the environmental management standard ISO14001. One took less than a page to say it was certified and included its certificate - while the other took 325 pages to describe all of its procedures and even included minutes of meetings on the subject.
Moreover, some appear to be deliberately including too much information in their applications. Some have tried to include administrative and other buildings under their IPPC permit in a bid to maximise their rebate on the climate change levy.
Mr James warned delegates that if a company made it too difficult for inspectors to find the necessary information, its application could be refused. He added that the new IPPC charging scheme would be based on Agency time and charges would rise if applications were too long or poorly focused.
The survey found that the average cost of preparing an IPPC application, excluding the application fee, was over £32,000. For paper mills this rose to almost £43,000. The cost of consultants used to produce site contamination reports accounted for half the sum.
Most companies needed six months to prepare an application. Many submitted applications at the last minute - 85% of the paper mill applications were received in the final week and others appear to have been made late.
The survey also sought views on the quality of the Agency's guidance. Paper mills took a mixed view of the sector-specific guidance. Most applicants condemned the Agency's guidance on site reports as only adequate or fairly poor. Mr James accepted that although "all the information [in the site report guidance] is there and is accurate, it is not as clear as it should be." Paper companies are now struggling to produce full site reports after only submitting desktop surveys with their applications (ENDS Report 319, pp 3-4 ).