Fee freeze for pollution control

Fees charged by local councils and the Environment Agency to regulate businesses are expected to stay largely the same over the next financial year, according to a consultation issued in September.

The Environment Agency and environment department (DEFRA) intend to freeze the fees charged for regulating polluting activities until April 2012. But some fees will rise to fund better monitoring and response services.

The plans were published in consultations in late September.1,2 They are a response to the current economic situation and reflect the public sector’s two-year pay freeze. With inflation running at 3-5%, the regulators will need to meet any cost increases with efficiency savings.

About 19,000 businesses regulated by local councils will benefit. The fees they pay rose by only 1.15% on average this financial year (ENDS Report 422, p 37). The agency’s increase was similar.

But the consultation for the Local Air Pollution Prevention and Control (LAPPC) and Local Authority Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (LA-IPPC) regimes proposes charging £50 for payments more than eight weeks outstanding. Councils can withdraw permits, without right to appeal, for persistent non-payment.

Further charges are also proposed for joint waste and LAPPC (also known as part B) installations. LAPPC sites that must report emissions to the European pollutant inventory (ENDS Report 423, p 23) would pay an extra £99 annually.

DEFRA plans to extend the availability of reduced fees for mothballed plants from a year to 36 months.

The Environment Agency’s board has approved the freezing of fees for water discharges from LA-IPPC sites.

While the agency does not intend changing baseline charges, it wants to make a number of important alterations.

An extended series of reduced-fee standard permits should be available from April next year. This should include a new one for existing, small-scale end-of-life vehicle scrapyards. But fees will increase from about £540 to £760.

Some permit applications for mobile plant will be cut and the annual subsistence charge is expected to go. The agency proposes charging for each application to deploy plant.

The operational risk appraisal (OPRA) scheme will be modified to put less weight on minor non-compliances with environmental permit conditions. This will save firms about £100,000 a year in total.

Waste facilities and industrial installations will be charged 1.3% more to fund the agency’s £1.2m a year air quality incident response unit.

Subsistence charges for power station operators will rise by 10% to fund the new regulatory regime for carbon capture and storage (CCS). The consultation proposes funding its regulation by deeming CCS installations to be in OPRA band E.

Charges for nuclear operators will rise 2.8% to fund greater monitoring activities.

Changes will also apply to aircraft operators’ charges under the EU emissions trading scheme, abstraction charges and some waste operations.

The agency is also seeking views on tentative proposals for full cost recovery for hydropower applications, flood risk management and how to integrate civil sanctions into OPRA.

Responses to DEFRA’s consultation must be made by 22 December. The Welsh Assembly Government will carry out a separate consultation on local council regulatory fees.

The Environment Agency’ consultation ends on 17 December.

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