The new targets, which extend to 2005/06, are part of a management drive to get the organisation to focus on the environmental outcomes of its work. Annual milestones have been set for each, and the Agency has promised to record progress against them in its annual reports.
A few of the targets, such as those for emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides, are driven by legislation. The target for remediation or investigation of 52 contaminated sites by 2005/06 is also much reduced in ambition from the Agency's earlier objectives in this area.
In other cases the Agency has erred on the side of caution. For instance, the target for the most serious category 1 and 2 pollution incidents is a 10% reduction from the 2001 baseline by 2005, but 40% of this had already been achieved by last year. Likewise, the target for an average 0.5% per year reduction in water use over the same period has almost been met already - though staying within it will not necessarily be easy.
Several targets will apply to businesses regulated under the IPC and IPPC regimes. One novelty is the Agency's plan to cut waste disposal from these processes by 6% from this year's level by 2005/06, and to increase the quantity sent for recycling or reuse by 10% over the same period. Some may feel that a target for waste minimisation is needed to complete the picture.
The Agency has sometimes expressed scepticism about the value of environmental management systems, but it is nevertheless aiming to promote a sharp increase in their uptake to 58% of businesses under IPC/IPPC by 2005/06 - with a target to follow for licensed waste businesses. It also intends to set targets for companies falling in the lowest grades of its OPRA risk rating scheme.
One point left uncertain by the plan is whether the Agency took account of the growth in the number of businesses due to come under its wing through IPPC over the next three years when it set its waste and EMS targets. This may make achievement of the waste targets in particular much more demanding than it appears at first sight because they are expressed in tonnage terms.
Numerous other initiatives are set out in the corporate plan. For businesses, the Agency intends to begin publishing "sector plans" this year which will set out the environmental improvements it is looking for. Initial candidates include the cement, chemicals, waste, water and nuclear industries.
Also scheduled for introduction from this year are "compliance assessment plans". These are a new formal tool to be used by inspectors to ensure that compliance with all permit requirements is checked within a defined period and identify the resources required for compliance assessment activities at a site.
The document also reveals that the Agency is gearing up to make all of its public registers available electronically, not only at local offices but over the internet, from 2005/06. This is likely greatly to enhance the registers' value - not least to campaigning organisations.
In another new publication, the Agency develops the "modernising regulation" theme and its risk-based, outcome-focused emphasis. The discussion document brings together much of its recent thinking on alternatives to regulation - such as emissions trading, voluntary agreements and environmental taxes - on "smarter" regulation, and on the role of environmental management systems.1