Quarries and mines go under environmental permitting regime

Quarries and mines in England and Wales will have to apply for new "environmental permits" covering the management of extractive wastes by May 2010.

Draft regulations setting out a new permitting regime for the management of mining and quarrying wastes were issued for consultation by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in February.1 The consultation says such operations should fall under the new environmental permitting regime that combines waste management licensing and pollution prevention and control permitting and takes effect in England and Wales from April.

Businesses welcomed the regime because it would reduce the number of permits needed for waste management and industrial operations. Discussions between the Environment Agency and the Environment Department (DEFRA) have recently started on a possible second phase that would extend the programme to replace other permitting regimes, such as those covering nuclear waste and water discharges.

DEFRA has moved more quickly, however, to bring the management of wastes from mining and quarrying under the environmental permitting regime. This is because the EU mining waste Directive, which was adopted in 2006, must be transposed into national law by 1 May 2008.

There are more than 2,200 active mines and quarries in the UK, of which about 1,500 are in England and 160 in Wales. Together, these UK sites produce nearly 94 million tonnes of non-hazardous waste per year - a third of the UK total. Most of the waste is used to refill sites but large quantities are tipped on to spoil heaps, while fine-grained material is deposited in the form of slurry into lagoons.

The Directive requires sites to treat and store "extractive" waste without endangering human health or the environment. They must also have a waste management plan, a major-accident prevention policy and receive a permit to operate a waste facility.

The Directive includes a number of derogations for lower-risk wastes or operations. For example, a permit is not needed to manage inert waste or unpolluted soil unless they are deposited in a lagoon or spoil heap that has a high potential accident risk. Nor is a permit required for such wastes under the waste framework Directive or the landfill Directive.

Existing sites must have permits by May 2012. In order for this to happen in time, says DCLG, sites that deposit extractive waste should be given two years (until May 2010) to submit their applications.

But all site operators will be required to produce a waste management plan for the minimisation, treatment, recovery and disposal of extractive waste.

The consultation paper sets out three options for transposing the Directive, including the planning system as overseen by local mineral and waste planning authorities, and a combination of planning consents and environmental permitting.

But its preferred option would be to implement all of the Directive’s provisions through the environmental permitting regime, with the Environment Agency acting as the competent authority.

The Agency may also be made responsible for a new public inventory of closed sites, including abandoned sites, which cause or have the potential to cause serious environmental or health problems. The inventory must be completed by 2012.

The Directive requires the European Commission to adopt a number of implementing and amending measures by 1 May 2008, including an interpretation of the definition of "inert waste" and developing guidance on the provision of financial guarantees.

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