NRA wins fight with Greenpeace over discharge control policy

The first attempt by an environmental group to challenge a central enforcement body's compliance with its legal duties has ended with the National Rivers Authority (NRA) dealing Greenpeace a bloody nose and a hefty legal bill.

The unprecedented action was initiated by Greenpeace shortly after it blocked an effluent outfall from Albright & Wilson's chemical works in Whitehaven, Cumbria, last autumn.

The group followed up by asking the High Court to allow a judicial review of the NRA's oversight of the plant. Greenpeace claimed that the company, one of the UK's biggest dischargers of metals to the sea, had been weakly regulated and monitored by the NRA. The group also argued that the NRA had failed to observe Government policy on the application of the "precautionary principle" (ENDS Report 200, pp 4-6).

Although the High Court granted leave for the judicial review in October, the case was not pursued further. Greenpeace told the NRA in March that it was pulling out because of the effluent clean-up programme agreed between Albright & Wilson and the NRA in December (ENDS Report 203, pp 5-6) - an initiative which, the group says, would not have happened without its intervention.

Its claim has been dismissed out of hand by the NRA, which says that it has extensive documentary evidence to show that discussions on the clean-up agreement were well advanced before the Greenpeace action at Whitehaven. NRA officials add that Greenpeace representatives accepted at a meeting in February that they had not informed themselves adequately about the tight monitoring requirements imposed on the company when it carried out a controversial experimental discharge last year.

Greenpeace's attempt to pull out quietly from the proceedings was greeted with an NRA threat that it would seek to recover its own costs in court unless the group agreed to an out-of-court settlement. It has now done so. The bill is expected to be at least £50,000. Some NRA officials say that the group picked a fight over the wrong discharge.

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