Pow: Government on course to set Environment Bill targets by 2022

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow has said legally binding targets the government must adhere to for air pollution, biodiversity, water quality and resource efficiency as set out in the Environment Bill are on course to be developed by October 2022.

The bill has been repeatedly delayed. In January, ministers announced it would be bumped by at least six months into the next parliamentary session due to Covid-19 but in an interview with Politics Home, Pow said the targets were on track to be developed by October 2022 - a date previously set by DEFRA.

In March, the government confirmed the bill would absorb elements of Conservative MP Philip Dunne’s Private Members’ Bill to stop raw sewage being discharged into rivers.

This includes a duty on the government to publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows, as well as various duties on water companies.

Referring to a Panorama documentary aired last month, which found that water companies have been discharging untreated wastewater into rivers in breach of their permits on a regular basis, Pow said it was “a shocking programme”.

“But the great news is we are doing something about it. We set up a storm overflows taskforce with a view to tackling this, and we’ve set ourselves this long-term goal of eliminating these storm overflows,” she said.

Pow said DEFRA would make a number of announcements in May, including the roll-out of the 10p plastic bag charge, new civil enforcement powers for councils to stop people burning polluting wet wood, and a new Plant for the Planet project which will encourage everyone across the country to plant something in the lead up to the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference being held in Glasgow this November.

Pow also responded to campaigners who have been calling for tighter legal limits on particulate concentrations after the death of nine-year-old south London school-girl Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah. An inquest found air pollution had made a “material contribution” to Ella’s death.

In April, the inquest’s coroner said World Health Organization (WHO) particulate standards should become legally binding. Current rates in the UK are two and a half times above the 10µg/m3 recommended by WHO. 

Pow said: “People are pushing us to try and make it lower. We want it to be as ambitious as possible but we want it to achieve better health. There isn’t just one number that is the correct number. We want to get it as low as we can, but we haven’t set the actual figure yet. We’re getting a lot of pressure from people to set this at 10 [µg/m3], but 10 might not be the right number. We’re working on it.”

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