Rogerson outlines future work on waste crime

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Water, Forestry, Rural Affairs and Resource Management, Dan Rogerson, has written to members of the waste and resources industry to outline government’s future work to tackle waste crime.

The letter comes more than a year after several members of the industry wrote to the minister urging him to ensure that government does not make funding allocated for waste crime prevention ‘a casualty’ of the Spending Review for 2015/16

Writing to David Beale and Steve Lee of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) on Monday (1 September), Rogerson said he ‘recognised' the resource management sector has ‘worked hard to create a unified voice and drive improvements in [the] industry’ and that he wanted the industry and government to ‘continue to work together to ensure that regulation is implemented in a robust, fair and proportionate way to protect communities, the environment and the legitimate resource management sector’.

He outlined that the additional £5 million of funding that was allocated to tackle waste crime in the Budget 2014 will be used by the Environment Agency (EA) to ‘close down illegal operations, audit sites to look for deliberate mis-description of waste and disrupt the illegal export of waste’.

Proposal details

Rogerson explained that actions to ‘tackle waste crime and poor performance’ are focused around four key themes: ’speedy and tough enforcement action’; ‘greater intelligence sharing’; ‘making the polluter pay’; and ‘making better use of regulatory controls’. He said that he hoped these would bring about 'real change that will tackle those who fail to follow the rules, protect and enhance the reputation of all legitimate businesses in the resource industry and ensure the Environment Agency operates as a firm but fair regulator'.

He wrote: ‘The Environment Agency needs to adopt the right balance between helping legitimate business to comply on one hand while, on the other, taking appropriate, robust and timely enforcement action to stop those who deliberately or repeatedly flout the rules or pose a significant risk of harm or nuisance’.

Specific proposals for this ‘speedy and tough enforcement action’ include:

  • increasing EA interventions at ‘poor performing sites’ with the objective that ‘none remain poor performers for more than 18 months’;
  • improving co-ordinated activity by the EA and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to ‘ensure a complementary, and where appropriate, joined up approach to tackling non-compliance linked to tax evasion’; and
  • Government and the EA reviewing: the sanctions and penalties available to aid ‘effective enforcement’ for environmental offences; whether it should be easier to suspend or revoke an environmental permit when ‘significant non-compliance’ is found; and whether opportunities to challenge this (by appeal or judicial review) should be ‘more limited’.

Rogerson continued that as ‘government, regulators and industry share a common interest in ensuring that those that flout the law can be readily identified and are subject to timely and robust enforcement action’, there should be ‘greater intelligence sharing’ between the bodies.

Specific proposals include:

  • the EA working with industry to ‘review and where possible improve’ existing arrangements for reporting alleged illegal operations and the gathering and feedback of this intelligence;
  • Government and EA reviewing the ‘potential for improving the collation and access to records of convictions for waste and associated offences’ to prevent, where possible, past offenders being issued with permits; and
  • the EA making ‘full use’ of the Memorandum of Understanding on Information Exchange with HMRC to share information and develop a better understanding of ‘key compliance risks’.

In terms of ‘making the polluter pay’, Rogerson outlined that ‘the true costs of regulating those that operate to poor standards should be recovered through fees and charges’.

Specific proposals include:

  • potentially increasing charges for poor performing sites to recover the cost of increased interventions (the EA is set to consult on this ‘during 2014/15’);
  • the EA monitoring the impact of the new Sentencing Council’s guidelines on the fines being handed down by the courts in the cases it brings and making available its findings to government to ‘consider whether there needs to be further guidance’; and
  • considering a new statutory mechanism to allow the EA to re-charge waste sites for pollution clean-up costs in the same way that water polluters can be re-charged.

Finally, Rogerson recognised that ‘much waste crime operates in plain sight and can be tackled to a degree through greater inspection of waste documentation and records’, so to make ‘better use of regulatory controls’, the following proposals could be implemented:

  • the EA applying ‘greater scrutiny’ to newly permitted sites within their first year of operation (including ‘more detailed and robust checks’ of the management system to ensure that it is ‘fit for purpose and being fully implemented on site’);
  • the EA introducing revised procedures for assessing operator competence, focusing on ‘detailed checks’ including financial, technical and behavioural indicators during permit application, variation and transfer. It is hoped that this would ensure ‘only those that can fulfil their permit obligations receive or retain a permit’;
  • Government and the EA reviewing the case for strengthening the fit and proper person test of applicants for environmental permits, for example, by requiring operators to provide better evidence of their technical competence;
  • the EA integrating checks on site records, waste transfer notes and, where appropriate, hazardous waste consignment notes into its regular site inspections for targeted waste streams;
  • the EA ensuring that site management systems contain ‘appropriate and specific minimum standards’ relating to the storage of combustible materials, reducing the impact of amenity issues and ensuring sustained good performance;
  • the EA carrying out a review of the regulation of waste carriers, brokers and dealers and preparing a report with recommendations on improvements to the regulation of these activities;
  • The EA publishing a plan by April 2015 for ‘fulfilling its duties in respect of carrying out appropriate inspection of waste activities that are exempt from the need for an environmental permit’, quantifying compliance problems and recommending enhancements to the regulation of these activities;
  • Government and the EA working with industry and stakeholders to establish how best to notify landowners that actual or proposed waste activities are taking place and to share advice on the potential legal obligations that may arise from leasing land to waste operations; and
  • the EA providing a mechanism for ‘greater scrutiny of Regulatory Position Statements and Enforcement Position Statements, including a more detailed assessment of the risks posed by activities allowed under these statements’.

Rogerson concluded: ‘These proposals reaffirm the importance the government attaches to protecting communities and legitimate business. I am particularly keen that those who commit crime or have entrenched poor standards of operation are subject to speedier and tougher enforcement action…

‘Some of these proposals require continued and potentially increasing co-operation with industry. When you have had a chance to digest the proposals I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss your views including on how we can take action together.’

Industry reaction

The letter has been welcomed by members of the waste and resources industry, with Steve Lee, Chief Executive of CIWM, saying: “We welcome the positive response from the minister, which acknowledges the efforts of industry bodies including CIWM and ESA [Environmental Services Association] to highlight the cost and impact of waste crime and sets out how the additional £5 million funding from government to support these efforts will be deployed.

“The minister’s letter places a welcome emphasis across a number of key areas, including a greater focus on poor performing sites and increased charges for those who pollute, tougher sanctions, and a review of the new sentencing guidelines to ensure they are making an impact.

“We are also pleased to see greater prominence given to technical competence check, as well as better intelligence sharing and more inspection of waste documentation.

“The letter acknowledges that the industry’s co-operation remains essential and CIWM will continue to drive this agenda to ensure that the environment, our communities, and legitimate businesses in the sector are not harmed by these illegal operators.”

ESA’s Director General Barry Dennis, added: "ESA welcomes the Minster’s commitment to tackling waste crime and persistent poor performers in the resource management sector...

"We particularly welcome the commitment to taking robust and timely enforcement action to prevent rogue operators from obtaining permits and to quickly stop those who are deliberately or repeatedly flouting the rules. Such sites clearly have significant adverse impacts on the environment and communities but also directly undercut responsible operators.

"We are also encouraged that the government recognises the importance of coordinated activity between the Environment Agency and HM Revenue & Customs to tackle non-compliance linked to tax evasion."

He added that the ESA "looks forward to working closely with the government and Environment Agency to help progress the actions set out in the Minister’s letter as quickly as possible, starting now".

But, James Fulford at environmental consultancy Eunomia Research & Consulting said: “There needs to be a clear and sustainable funding mechanism to ensure that the good work which is being proposed is supported in the long term. Only once this is in place can the waste sector be assured that the government will fully back its commitments around the important issue of waste crime.”