Given the announcement that Severn Trent Water is facing a record £35.8m fine for deliberately providing false information to the regulator and the fact that Southern Water was fined £20.3m for similar offences earlier this year, the Anglers’ Conservation Association has expressed its amazement that the Environment Agency is pressing ahead with plans to put water companies in charge of monitoring their own environmental performance.
The Environment Agency has recently consulted on its Operator and Pollution Risk Appraisal (OPRA) and Operator Self Monitoring (OSM) proposals and reported the findings in a document entitled “greener business, healthier environment: consultation on regulating discharges to water”. The essence of these proposals is that operators of sewage treatment and other potentially polluting works will now monitor their own performance rather than the Environment Agency.
Not only was there widespread opposition amongst environmental NGOs to these proposals, but the water companies themselves seemed concerned that they would be saddled with additional costs. The ACA was particularly concerned that water companies could very easily cover up pollution incidents for which they might otherwise be fined by the Environment Agency and/or face civil claims from the ACA’s team of in-house lawyers for damage to its members’ fisheries.
The Agency’s response to these concerns was to claim blandly that: “we have taken these concerns and comments on board and are now confident that we have a scheme that will allow us to regulate in a fairer, more effective way.” The ACA does not share that confidence.
Mark Lloyd, Executive Director of the Anglers’ Conservation Association said: “These plans – which seem to us as naive as expecting Premiership footballers to admit to their own fouls – are supported by none of the environmental NGOs and indeed few of the water companies themselves. The proposals seem to be driven by a desire to cut the EA’s costs of regulation rather than to stop pollution getting into our water environment. Given that two water companies have this year been fined for deliberately providing false information to regulators, is it really sensible to entrust them now with monitoring their own environmental performance?”
Copies of the Agency’s Q&A document on OPRA and OSM and its response to the consultation are available on request as PDFs. The ACA’s original response to the consultation is also available.