Draft Environment Bill: What will environmental protection look like after Brexit?
With all the uncertainty still hanging over the European Union (EU) withdrawal process, those involved in environmental protection have also been left wondering what will Brexit mean. Before Christmas the UK Government released a draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill that aims to clarify how the government will maintain environmental standards after leaving the EU and build on their 25 Year Environment Plan.
A core proposal in the bill is the creation of up a new ‘independent’ body to replace the Environmental Protection functions of the European Union – an ‘Office for Environmental Protection’ (OEP). The bill proposes that the OEP will:
- scrutinise environmental law and a new Environmental Improvement Plan
- investigate complaints on environmental law
- take enforcement action on environmental law
The draft bill calls for the establishment of an Environmental Implementation Plan covering a period of at least 15 years, which will require an annual progress report from the OEP on the delivery of the plan. It also outlines nine core principles of environmental governance, from the right to participate in environmental matters to the polluter pays principle that will need to be interpreted and proportionally applied by government Ministers.
The bill raises a number of questions, including how the OEP will ensure its independence and whether it will carry sufficient weight to investigate and impose penalties on environmental crimes. Another concern relates to the ‘non-regression’ clause – i.e. how the bill will avoid weakening existing environmental protections established under the EU; as well as regarding the scope and implementation of the nine environmental principles.
The Bill is currently being reviewed jointly by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee before it is brought before MPs to be made into law. The committees are inviting groups to inform their review of the draft Bill. Greener UK, a coalition of 14 Environmental NGOs, have been working to constructively engage in the committee process to try and strengthen the Bill. Greener UK has put together a survey to gather supporters’ views on the OEP watchdog, EIP and principles and help clarify what people would like to see achieved by the broader bill.
The deadline to respond to Green UK’s survey is 25th of February 2019.
You can find the survey here (it takes less than 10 minutes to do).