On 31 January, at Bridgend magistrates court, Ford pleaded guilty to a charge of operating a prescribed process without an authorisation, contrary to sections 6(1) and 23(1)(a) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The company was fined £14,000 and was ordered to pay £2,219 costs.
The integrated pollution control (IPC) regime, established under the 1990 Act, required operators of combustion processes with a thermal input above 50MW to apply for an authorisation by June 1992.
The court heard that Ford had failed to obtain an authorisation for its 53MW gas-fired boiler at Bridgend.
Speaking after the case, Environment Agency team leader Barbara Tate said that Ford had carried out an assessment of whether its boiler would require authorisation. However, it miscalculated the threshold, basing it on thermal output rather than input.
Boiler plants at Ford's Dagenham and Halewood sites were both authorised under IPC.
Ford failed to realise the non-compliance until February 2001 when the company recalculated the capacity of the site's boilers for the purposes of its climate change levy agreement.
Although Ford notified the Agency of the unauthorised process, it took two-and-a-half years to submit an application for a permit under the new integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) regime.
The case is an embarrassment for Ford which has all its European operations certified to ISO14001. The Bridgend works was certified by Lloyd's Register Quality Assurance in October 1998. A spokesman for Lloyd's said that it had started an investigation into the incident.
The standard is meant to ensure that companies have procedures in place to ensure regulatory compliance and deliver improvements in environmental performance. The UK Accreditation Service recently proposed more stringent assessment of bodies issuing certificates with a view to rebuilding confidence in the process (ENDS Report 360, pp 5-6 ).
Ford also saved a considerable sum over the 11 unauthorised years. The Agency put the total savings at £36,000 - considerably more than the fine it has now received.
A spokesman for Ford said the company's failure to ensure the plant was correctly authorised was due to an "administrative technicality" in calculating its capacity. At no point did the boiler house present a threat to human health or the environment, he added. The delay in making an IPPC application, meanwhile, was agreed with the Agency so that it could be brought into line with the submission of the company's IPPC applications at other sites.
The spokesman said that Ford's internal management system went beyond the requirements of ISO14001.