UK Environment Agency

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The UK Environment Agency (or simply Environment Agency) is a non-departmental public body of the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and a sponsored public body of the National Assembly for Wales.

The Environment Agency's projected principal aims are "to protect and improve the environment, and to promote sustainable development".[1] Protecting and improving the environment relates to controlling air, water and land pollution as well as prevention and controlling of floods. In support of its aims, the Agency acts as an operating authority, a regulatory authority and a licensing authority.

The Agency's head offices are in Bristol and London, England. There are also seven regional offices throughout England as well as the office of the Environment Agency Wales[2] Each of the seven regions has two or three designated areas, each with an office, for a total of 20 such area offices.[3] The total staff employed by the Agency as a whole was about 12,500 as of 2008.[4]

History

The Environment Agency was created by the Environment Act 1995,[5] which also created the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the National Park Authorities. It took over the functions of the National Rivers Authority (NRA), Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution (HMIP) and the waste regulation authorities in England and Wales including the London Waste Regulation Authority (LWRA).

All of the predecessor agencies, authorities and bodies were disbanded and the local authorities relinquished their waste managementwaste regulatory role. At the same time, the Agency took responsibility for issuing flood warnings to the public, a role previously held by the police.

Scope of jurisdiction

The scope of the Environment Agency's jurisdiction covers the whole of England and Wales which comprises about 15,000,000 hectares of land (37,100,000 acres), 36,000 kilometres (22,400 miles) of river and 5,000 kilometres (3,100 miles) of coastline seawards to the three mile limit which includes 2,000,000 hectares (4,940,000 acres) of coastal waters.[6] In a sharing arrangement with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), it also exercises its functions over part of the catchment of the River Tweed which is, for the most part, in Scotland.

Governance and organization

Overall governance is provided by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as the lead sponsor for the Environment Agency. The Secretary of State is responsible for the Agency's overall policy and setting of objectives for its work related to the environment and sustainable development.[6] For policy, objectives, and activities in Wales, the Environmental Agency is accountable to the Minister for Sustainability and Rural Development in Wales.

The Environmental Agency's has a Board of 14 members, including the Chairman and Chief Executive, who are appointed by the Secretary of State (with the exception of one member appointed by the National Assembly for Wales). The Board is responsible for the organization and day-to-day performance of the Environmental Agency. For policy, objectives, approval and activities in Wales, the Agency is accountable to the Minister for Sustainability and Rural Development in Wales. The Board meets six times a year and delegates day-to-day management to the Chief Executive and staff.[7]

The Secretary of State and supporting staff are located in the London office. The Chairman, Chief Executive, legal group and other functional groups are located in the Bristol office.

The Agency is organized into eight directorates that report to the Chief Executive. There are two "policy and process" directorates. One deals with Flood and Coastal Risk Management and the other with Environment and Business. These are backed up by the Evidence directorate. The fourth directorate is a single Operations "delivery" unit, responsible for national services and management of all the Regional and Area staff. The remaining directorates are central shared service groups for Finance, Legal Services, Resources and Communications. A complete organization chart is available on the website of the Environmental Agency.[8]

Funding

The Agency is funded in part from the UK government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Welsh Assembly Government. Additional money is raised from issuing of licenses and permits such as for water abstraction,[9] waste handler registrations, navigation rights, fishing rights and the use of data owned by the Agency.

The Environment Agency's total funding in 2008 to 2009 was £1,180 million, an increase of £98 million on the previous financial year. Of that, £770 million (65 per cent) was provided in the form of grant-in-aid from Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG). £374 million (32 per cent) was raised from charging shemes and local flood defense levies in England, and £36 million (3 per cent) came from other miscellaneous sources.[10]

Major functions

Under the provisions of a series of Acts of Parliament, the Agency is the main regulator of discharges to air, water, and land. It does this through the issue of formal consents to discharge or, in the case of large, complex or potentially damaging industries, by means of a permit.[11] Failure to comply with such a consent or permit or making a discharge without the benefit of a consent can lead to criminal prosecution. Magistrates' Court can impose fines of up to £50,000 or 12 months imprisonment for each offence of causing or knowingly permitting pollution. If prosecuted in the Crown Court, there is no limit on the amount of the fine and sentences of up to 5 years imprisonment may be imposed on those responsible for the pollution or on management officers of companies causing pollution.

The Agency also has an important role in conservation and ecology, specifically along rivers and in wetlands. More general responsibility for the countryside and natural environment in England falls to the organization Natural England.

Air quality

The Agency is a regulator for the release of air pollutants into the atmosphere from large, complex industrial processes. This will soon include air pollutant releases from some large-scale agricultural activities, but air pollutant releases from many agricultural activities will continue to be unregulated.[12]

Major sources of air pollution, such as vehicular and other forms of transport, are subject to various measures at the European, national and local level. Local authorities regulate air pollution from smaller industrial processes. The Agency works with local authorities, the Highways Agency and others to implement the UK government's air quality strategy in England and Wales as mandated in the Environment Act 1995.

The Environment Agency has an Air Quality Modelling and Assessment Unit (AQMAU) that aims to ensure that air quality assessments for permit applications, enforcement activities and air pollution incident investigations are consistent, of a high standard and based on sound science.

The Environment Agency is also one of the many participating organizations on the Atmospheric Dispersion Modelling Liaison Committee (ADMLC). The ADMLC's main aim is to investigate and report the current understanding of atmospheric dispersion modeling for application primarily in authorization or licensing of discharges to the atmosphere resulting from industrial, commercial or other sites.[13][14]

Land quality

The Agency is the regulatory authority for all waste management activities including the licensing of sites such as landfill, incineration and recycling facilities. It also regulates the movement of hazardous wastes such as fibrous asbestos, infectious clinical wastes and harmful chemicals. The Agency issues Environmental Permits to waste management sites and any individuals or companies found to have caused pollution or to have infringed their license conditions can be prosecuted. In serious cases, the Environment Agency has the power to revoke the Environmental Permits issued to sites that contravene the conditions of their permits.

Water quality

The Agency is responsible for maintaining and improving the quality of surface and ground waters. As part of that responsibility duty, it monitors the quality of rivers, lakes, the sea and ground-water on a regular basis. Much of gathered monitoring data is required by law under the provisions of a number of European Directives to be made public and be reported both to the UK Parliament and to the European Union.

Water resources

The Agency manages the use and conservation of water through the issue of water abstraction[9] licenses for activities such as drinking water supply, artificial irrigation and hydroelectricity generation. The Agency is in charge of inland rivers, estuaries and harbours in England and Wales. Its remit also extends into Scotland in the River Tweed and River Solway catchments where special arrangements exist with SEPA to avoid duplication but retain management on a catchment basin.

Complex arrangements exist for the management of river regulation reservoirs, which are used to store winter water in the wetter parts of England and Wales in order to maintain levels in the summer time so that there is sufficient water to supply the drier parts of the country with drinking water.

Other functions

  • Fishing: Regulates fishing and the issuing of fishing licenses. Also regulates the commercial exploitation of shellfish.[15]
  • Navigation: The Agency manages navigation for 1020 km (634 miles) of Britain's rivers. The Agency's lock-keepers maintain and operate systems of sluices, weirs and locks in order to manage water-levels for navigation, and where necessary to control flooding. Functions in relation to most canals are undertaken by the British Waterways Board.
  • Other marine functions: The Environment Agency is the Harbor Authority for the Rye Harbor and the Conservancy Authority for the Dee Estuary.[16]
  • Consultation and influencing: The Agency uses its influence and provides education to change attitudes and behavior towards the environment. This action is directed towards business and commerce at all levels, children in education, the general public, local governments and the national UK Government. This last area is quite distinct from the Agency's statutory role to advise Government. In local government planning processes, the Agency is a statutory consultee on all planning matters from County Strategic plans down to individual planning applications.
  • Advice to the UK government: Until the formation of the Environment Agency, the Government took specialist advice on environmental management from civil servants in the appropriate ministries. This led to duplication of effort and frequent disagreements between Government and the regulatory agencies. The Environment Agency now advises Government directly about such environmental management issues.

References