As an environmental expert and chair of UKELA's Brexit Task Force I was asked to give evidence at the House of Lords Committee on Energy and Environment. The topic was the proposed Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) - effectively a super regulator that will ensure that the Government, Environment Agency , Natural England and Local Authorities implement and enforce environmental law once we leave the EU.
For our clients across the board - be they large landowners, industrial or commercial clients - I believe this will mean more enforcement action and potential prosecutions. The message to clients is that this is a good time to check your permits, waste management practices and land portfolios to ensure that you will not be targeted by the regulator once their watchdog is in place.
I say this because recent figures published on the decline of enforcement actions will not escape the OEP's eagle eye: formal cautions issued by the Environment Agency have dropped by 80% in the last 3 years and prosecutions dropped from 515 in 2011 to 113 in 2017. Natural England has been found to not be complying with the law by only inspecting 50% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) which are the most important wildlife sites in England, putting them at risk of fly tipping, pollution, water contamination, invasive species, and the unchecked impacts of a changing climate.
It may be that somehow and for some reason there has been a rise in compliance with environmental law and that has decreased the need for enforcement , but let's see what the OEP has to say about that. The OEP has broad monitoring, investigatory, advisory and enforcement powers which it is not likely to be shy in using. It will now be for the Secretary of State for the Environment to make sure there is sufficient funding for public bodies to do what they are meant to do.
The EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee invites a roundtable of experts to explore how EU mechanisms to ensure compliance with environmental obligations will be replaced after Brexit.