DGXI plans Directive on environmental inspections

The European Commission is drafting a Directive on the inspection of industrial facilities aimed at improving the enforcement of EC environmental laws. The proposal is likely to meet opposition for meddling in Member States' activities, but a precedent for prescribing inspection criteria is provided in recent major hazards legislation.

Last June, Environment Ministers responded to a Commission paper on ways of improving the implementation and enforcement of EC environmental laws by inviting it to develop minimum criteria for national inspectorates (ENDS Report 269, p 43 ). They also agreed to enhance the status of IMPEL, the informal network of national environmental inspectorates, by giving it a secretariat and a role to provide formal policy advice.

IMPEL has since prepared a paper intended "to promote common principles for the inspection of industrial installations." The Commission's Environment Directorate, DGXI, initially intended to develop the paper into a non-binding Recommendation, but Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard has now decided to work it into a full-blown Directive.

If her fellow Commissioners support the idea, DGXI hopes to issue a formal proposal before the end of the UK Presidency in June. It now has a substantial body of evidence to illustrate Member States' patchy record on implementation and enforcement, and not only in the southern countries. But the measure is nevertheless likely to trigger opposition from some Commissioners and Member States on the grounds that it interferes with subsidiarity.

There is, however, a precedent for minimum EC inspection standards. The 1996 Directive on control of major accident hazards obliges Member States to organise a programme of inspections for hazardous installations. The competent authority must prepare a report on each inspection and ensure that the operator has taken appropriate measures to prevent major accidents and limit their consequences, and that information in his safety report to the authority is accurate. And at least one inspection per year of each site is required unless the authority has already carried out a systematic appraisal of the accident hazards of that site.

The proposed Directive on environmental inspections will only relate to the enforcement of EC laws. Installations subject to the Directive on integrated pollution prevention and control and the framework Directive on waste are obvious examples. For Directives which set environmental standards but do not specifically require the regulation of industrial facilities the picture is less clear. A Commission spokesman said that the measure would be unlikely to require inspections to ensure implementation of the Directive on bathing water quality, for example.

The IMPEL paper was drafted by UK, Dutch and Danish regulators, but they had not expected it to be translated into law.

  • Reporting: IMPEL's paper says that Member States should demonstrate to the Commission that the minimum inspection criteria have been implemented. Since many EC laws are enforced by local authorities, and since the number of installations affected would run at least well into six figures across the EC, this could prove an onerous requirement - and one which, depending on how it was framed, might scarcely be capable of effective oversight by the Commission.

    IMPEL has proposed that all inspection bodies should produce a regular report covering:

  • The level of compliance with permits.

  • Actions taken as a result of non-compliance.

  • The number of inspections carried out.

  • Quantitative data on financial and human resources.

  • Plan for inspections: Competent authorities would have to prepare a plan specifying inspection frequencies. This should also include a register of industrial sites and a survey of compliance.

  • Integrated approach: An "integrated approach" to inspections should be used to examine the full range of environmental impacts. This might require co-ordination between different inspectorates. As well as compliance checking, visits should include an examination of the facility to see if improvements are required. And inspectors would have to promote operators' understanding of their environmental impacts.

    Reports on the findings of each site visit would be held in a database. The regulator would have to follow up all "incidents, accidents or non-compliance" to establish the causes and determine how to mitigate the impacts and prevent further incidents. Such reports would presumably be available to the public under EC rules on access to environmental information.

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