The government has announced a review of the civil sanctions regime, the new suite of powers to enforce the law without going to the courts.
As a result, the Environment Agency will not be able to use them for offences under the environmental permitting regulations from 6 April as planned. Secondary legislation enabling this was due to go before parliament and the National Assembly for Wales this month.
“Ministers have indicated that they now want to agree a cross government position on civil sanctions for England more generally before measures in specific sets of regulations are taken forward,” said an environment department (DEFRA) statement to stakeholders.
ENDS understands the move was driven by Oliver Letwin, Cabinet Office minister for government policy. Given the coalition’s drive for regulatory simplification and cutting burdens on business, he is unconvinced about the need for the new, complex regime. But one observer tracking the government’s shift towards civil sanctions said this perception was “the result of a misunderstanding”.
A press officer confirmed that Natural England’s planned consultation on its sanctions policy has been delayed (ENDS Report 421, pp 43-44). Other regulators also have the powers at their disposal. The Renewable Fuels Agency first used them in December (ENDS Report 432, p 24).
It is unclear if the review entails a serious risk of the regime being scrapped entirely. The Conservatives had indicated strong support before last May’s general election. The Labour government had planned to extend the regime to duty of care, waste carriers and brokers, emissions trading and reservoir safety offences.
The review will not affect the agency’s powers to use sanctions for other environmental offences, at least for the time being. It gained these in January but has not yet used them (ENDS Report 430, p 52-53).
DEFRA says the government plans to lay the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 before parliament in the spring. Due to upcoming elections, the Welsh Assembly will consider them later.
The regulations should enter force on 1 October, with or without the sanctioning provisions. They were consulted on last summer (ENDS Report 427, pp 55-56).
Although the main intention was to enable financial penalties and ‘enforcement undertakings’ for permit breaches, the draft regulations also included changes to permitting exemptions and rules on burning waste-derived fuel.