Environment Agency

Judge Dreck

As reported on the Environment Agency's website:

A series of civil sanctions will give the Environment Agency the discretion to avoid the time consuming and costly process of having to take businesses that commit certain types of offences to court.  These will include monetary penalties, the power to make business repair environmental damage and the power to stop businesses from continuing operations that are damaging the environment.  Organisations will also be given a formal opportunity to restore voluntarily any damage they cause.  The new powers will not replace the Environment Agency’s approach of using advice and guidance and are expected to be used sparingly.  The Environment Agency will still take criminal cases against business and individuals that cause deliberate, reckless and grave environmental damage.  Such activities also often undercut law abiding business. 

The Environment Agency has already been allowed to usurp the planning process. If you get planning approval, they can effectively over-ride it by applying impossible strictures, and they can overturn it by retrospectively imposing non-viable conditions.

They shoot first and ask questions later, even going public with baseless accusations. Any retraction is grudging, delayed, and not publicized, and apologies rare as hen's teeth. Their behaviour and attitude is arbitrary, depending largely on the attitude of the individual agent. They are one of the single most important obstacles to economic development and to good environmental practice in the country.

They have an infinite budget (because the Government is bound to provide them with funds for any actions they take, however many and spurious). Their powers were already excessive, unaccompanied by responsibility or restraint. And now the Government proposes to further expand those powers, without the inconvenience of having to prove their case in court.

"You have been judged!"

In the established NuLab manner, language is perverted to portray this as a benefit to business:

more flexible powers will be used that make it easier and more cost effective for businesses to operate within environmental laws.

This will mean fairer and more effective environmental regulation. 

So progressive is this development, in fact, that it is to be the model for the expansion of such powers to other regulatory organisations:

The Environment Agency today became one of the first organisations to be granted new civil powers to complement existing regulatory powers.

"One of the first"? So there are others to come?

The reason they are to be trusted with extra powers is because the Better Regulation Executive reckon that they have improved their performance. One would think that a purpose of the BRE would be to oppose extensions of arbitrary regulatory powers. If they can't do that, in fact if they are recommending extension of powers, what good are they? Proof that you can't improve regulation by creating regulators to regulate the regulators, or quangos to recommend on how to control the quangos. Another candidate for the bonfire of the quangos that the Tories have promised and probably won't deliver.

There is much more to make you want to scream or sob in the EA's announcement of this development. Read it and weep.

Measuring targets

The justification given by the Environment Agency for the bonuses taken by their managers is that they had achieved 42 of their 45 performance-related targets. There has been much debate about whether the bonuses were appropriate in the circumstances, but besides the important points of principle, has anyone checked to see what those targets consisted of?

For the benefit of our readers, I have now waded through them. They are listed with comments below, but in summary, it was 42 out of 59 (not 45), most of the 42 were insignificant, bureaucratic or suspect (often some combination of the three), some of the other 17 were more significant than the 42, and most of the 59 were inappropriate tools for measuring their performance regardless of success. Highlights included:

  • Success claimed in influencing planning decisions in relation to development in the floodplain, in offering an appropriate flood warning service to properties in the flood plain, in getting more people to take their advice on flooding, and in delivering their flood risk management programme. If this is success, you've got to wonder what their definition of failure would be.
  • They redefined their failure to achieve their targets for the number of houses protected from flooding and the condition of the flood risk management systems as "partial achievement" (in much the same way that teachers wanted to refer to failure as "deferred success"). This allowed them to leave these factors out of the consideration of their overall success in meeting their targets - their logic seems to be: "it's neither success nor failure, so we just won't count it at all". In the case of the flood risk management systems, this "almost success" consisted of a little over half the systems being in their target condition.
  • One of the targets which they admitted they had not achieved was for emissions of priority pollutants to be going down. Just a minor part of the EA's role, but obviously not as important as their successes in increasing the proportion of ethnic-minority employees in their workforce to a full 2.7%, getting positive media coverage, putting "workforce plans" in place, and not having too many accidents.
  • They have, apparently, made themselves more efficient, dealt with permit- and planning-applications on a timely basis, reduced the administrative burden that they place on business, and generally delivered such a great "service" that most of their "customers" are happy with them. Honestly. Why are you laughing....

The long malign arm of the Environment Agency

As reported by the Telegraph, but strangely not available on their website, the charity Inter Care has been forced to shut down its operations by the Environment Agency (EA). Inter Care sends unused drugs from the UK to African hospitals. The EA has ordered them to suspend shipment because they may be breaching European Union regulations on waste disposal. Clinics in Africa are now running short of drugs as a result.

You can pick your enemy in this story. Maybe the fault is the European Union, for legislating in such a way that it would prevent something as beneficial as this. Or maybe it is the fault of the EA for excessive pedantry in the application of regulations. Experience of the EA would strongly suggest the latter, but experience of the EU would suggest the former. Is this the perfect confluence of two of the most sclerotic government bodies in the world? The perfect bureaucratic storm?