Discharge regulation heads for shake-up

Proposals to implement operator pollution and risk appraisals (OPRA) into effluent discharge consents have been published by the Environment Agency.1 The regulator is also pressing ahead with potentially more controversial plans for operator self-monitoring.

OPRA is the Agency’s method for assessing pollution hazards posed by industrial sites and how well they are managed. The scheme is well established under pollution prevention and control (PPC) and waste management licensing.

It creates a risk profile of a site by assessing: the type of industrial activity, the sensitivity of its location, the pollution potential of its releases, the operator’s management procedures and the site’s compliance record. Banded scores are generated for each criterion, ‘A’ being the lowest risk and ‘E’ the highest.

OPRA scores are important because the Agency uses them to assess how often the site will be inspected and to calculate regulatory fees. The scores are also published in the annual Spotlight report on business performance.

There are more than 100,000 discharge consents in England and Wales. Of these, 30,000 cover continuous sewage and trade effluent discharges, routinely monitored by the Agency. Another 20,000 are for intermittent discharges from storm overflows and the rest are small domestic sewage discharges.

The Agency is planning to apply OPRA to all consented discharges. But only 6,000 discharges of more than 50m3 per day will be subject to a full annual OPRA assessment. These are from sewage or trade effluent treatment works which are likely to be at higher risk due to a location’s sensitivity or type of pollutants released.

The rest will be subject to a simplified version of OPRA. For instance, lower-risk discharges from treatment works of 5-50m3 per day will have only their compliance rating assessed annually. The Agency will set a fixed band for all other criteria.

All domestic discharges of less than 5m3 per day will get a standardised OPRA profile. The Agency says pollution incident data show these works pose an "extremely low" risk.

The Agency plans to assess sites under OPRA in 2007. In April 2008 it will publish the scores and use them in planning regulatory activity. In April 2009 the Agency will use OPRA to calculate its fees.

Firms broadly support the principle of risk-based regulation whereby the Agency focuses on hazardous and poorly run sites, while reducing regulation of low-risk sites.

More controversial may be the Agency’s plans for operator self-monitoring of discharges, the principles of which are outlined in the consultation. A more detailed consultation will follow next year.

The Agency currently checks compliance by taking samples from 30,000 sewage and trade effluent discharges. Initially, the Agency planned to pass this responsibility on to operators, but water companies were opposed to accepting the costs involved. Instead, the Agency developed plans to reduce sampling by taking a process-based approach to regulation (ENDS Report 381, p 20 ).

As with PPC and waste licensing, consent-holders would have to show they have reliable procedures to ensure compliance with limits on releases. They would be responsible for monitoring their discharges and submitting sampling data to the Agency. The Agency would conduct inspections of process controls at a frequency determined by OPRA.

The Agency cautiously proposes to implement operator self-monitoring on a voluntary basis, starting with water companies in April 2008 and followed by companies with trade effluent discharges the year after. Introducing process regulation would also start in April 2009. It estimates this timetable will yield total savings to industry of £13.5 million by 2011/12.

Compliance Search

Discover all ENDS content in one place, including legislation summaries to keep up to date with compliance deadlines

Compliance Deadlines

Plan ahead with our Calendar feature highlighting upcoming compliance deadlines

News from ENDS Europe

News from ENDS Waste & Bioenergy