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Civil sanctions powers - the story two years on
Civil sanctions are aimed at businesses and provide the Environment Agency with ‘new ways to enforce the protection of the environment.’ (www.environment-agency.gov.uk)
But are they working?
They came into force in January 2011 and focus on investment in environmental clean-up rather than paying fines.
To date the Environment Agency has used its new civil sanctions powers for correcting environmental wrongs 111 times (ENDS Report, January 2013). Offenders can return to compliance and fix environmental damage in return for an end to action against them.
So far sanctions have been applied above all for packaging offences. More than £1.2 million has been donated to local wildlife trusts, charities and other organisations. Evidently businesses have the opportunity to put right the damage they have done and local communities secure a direct improvement in the environment as a result. However, can it be argued that the ‘environmental damage resulting from the failing to recover or recycle packaging is intangible,’ and therefore compensatory voluntary donations to green causes will not make a real difference? (ENDS Report, February 2012)
Flexible enforcement tools
Civil sanctions do not replace any of the Environment Agency’s current enforcement powers, but provide it with a “more flexible range” of tools. It will still prosecute serious offenders, but will be able to use alternative sanctions with legitimate businesses that are “trying to do the right thing”. (www.environment-agency.gov.uk) Up to the present time the Environment Agency has concentrated primarily on persuasion, rather than enforcement. The measures encourage businesses to put the environment first. The fixed penalty is only £100 for an individual and £300 for a company. This amount is clearly not punitive, however, the ‘negative publicity would have a detrimental effect on many businesses.’ (www.dmhstallard.com)
But is this method affective?
Valpak is witnessing this approach working successfully first hand. Companies are taking environmental compliance seriously and these measures are encouraging them to step forward in becoming compliant. But, the reality is even two years later very few people know about the civil sanctions process and therefore should the Environment Agency give its new powers more publicity? They are indeed a positive tool, enabling flexibility for both the governing body and the organisation in question, but if the environment is to be protected is it still the case that ‘legislation has to have teeth, and Government bodies need to be seen to bite?’ (www.greenwisebusiness.co.uk)