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Environmental Law in the UK

Most Environmental Law in the UK is transposed in to UK law from European directives for example, the Polluter Pays Principal which is often mentioned in the context of UK Environmental Law derives its structure for EU  Environmental Liability Directive (2004/35/EC).

Environmental Law FAQs

What was the first piece Environmental Law?
How is Environmental Law Enforced?
Environmental Law Relating to Water
What is meant by The Polluter Pays?
What is the purpose of Environmental Law?
Environmental Law Relating to Air
What are some interesting cases with regards to Environmental Law?
Is EIA a part of Environmental Law?
Is there an NGO that gives advice on Environmental Law?

Early Environmental Law

The first pieces of Environmental law probably related to waste:

1388 - English Parliament bars waste disposal in public waterways and ditches.

Way before the knowledge of toxins and germs, waste was deemed to be of nuisance, most humans dispose of waste in the easiest manner (we are better trained nowadays), and an easy place to deposit waste would have been waterways, where wastes would have been washed away, in the winter at least, but things may have got a little smelly in the summer.

1863 - The Alkali Acts

Under the British Alkali Act 1863, an Alkali inspector and four sub inspectors were appointed to curb discharge into the air of hydrogen chloride (gaseous hydrochloric acid) from the Le Blanc alkali works. More Info

1972 - The Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act

For the purposes of this Act, a person is to be treated as depositing waste if he deposits any substance (whether solid,
semi-solid or liquid) in such circumstances, or for such a period, that he may reasonably be assumed to have abandoned it where t is deposited or to have brought it to the place where it is deposited for the purpose of its being disposed of (whether by him or others) as waste. Read on?

The Polluter Pays Principle

The Polluter Pays Principle requires the polluting party to pay for environmental damage. Claimed as a cornerstone of EEL, it introduces fault-based liability for operators (or the competent authority), who must take necessary preventive and restorative measures for environmental damage. Cost recovery mechanisms are based upon the doctrine of joint and several liability, or fair and reasonable apportionment.

polluter paysIt has been extended with the Environmental Liability Directive (2004/35/EC) and the Extended Polluter Responsibility concept. This shifts responsibility for dealing with waste from governments to those producing it. The producer’s financial and/or physical responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumption stage of the product’s life cycle, giving them an incentive to incorporate environmental considerations into the design of their products.

In practice making the polluter pay is not always easy, companies which have ceased trading are a classic example, however new responsibilities for company directors can mean prosecutions after a company has ceased trading.


Environmental Law Case Studies

Environmental Law cases are being fought and won / loss globally everyday here are a few cases:

Costa Rica

In October 1999 a Criminal Tribunal sentenced Costa Rican property owner to five years in jail and the payment of civil compensation in the amount of $4570 for “moral dam-ages” for dumping poisonous substances into a river, polluting fresh and under groundwaters in a rural community of San Rafael de Tarrazu in the province of Cartago. The property owner used the substances in his coffee plantation but dumped left over residues and cleaned his contaminated equipment in the river. Further Reading


A Bradford man was today (12 August) sentenced to six months in jail suspended for two years and ordered to forfeit £5,600 under the proceeds of crime act at Bradford Crown Court.

Enforcement in the UK

The Environment Agency (rightly or wrongly) operate a name and shame kind of policy with regards to enforcement, and recent prosecution are published via RSS feed on there website. These stories can be viewed here.

These pages are for the benfit of google, if you would like to find out more you can visit the EA's environmental news pages.

The Purpose of Environmental Law

 Environmental Law seeks to provide support, and create conditions for, protection against pollution and degradation of, and impacts upon, environmental areas and media. Some environmental laws provide for assessing possible future impacts in advance (as part of the
decision-making process), while others regulate the quantity and nature of impacts of human activities (for example, setting allowable levels of pollution). As a distinct code of law it has developed since the 1960s in the major industrial economies, and continues to
evolve rapidly.

EU Environmental law

The EU is increasingly committed to a global environmental role, and so European environmental law [EEL] and policy has grown, with the member states required to implement levels of environmental protection as agreed among them. This introduction summarises the law, particularly as relevant to the candidate countries of the western Balkans, with an example from the FYROM case.

Other principles can be briefly mentioned. Preventive action is the concept that prevention is better than cure, and involves early consideration of environmental risks, and identifying environmental damage at source. The proximity principle states that environmental damage is best rectified at source, for example by disposing of waste as close as possible to its place of origin. The integration principle expects that environmental protection be a component of other EU policies, although there is a wide discretion in application. The
principle of ‘shared responsibility’ expects all concerned groups to work in partnership together.


How is Environmental Law Enforced?

Environmental Law in the UK is Enforced by the Environment Agency in England and Wales, and in Scotland SEPA.

The EA have the following powers at their disposal:

-enforcement notices and works notices (where contravention can be prevented or needs to be remedied);

-prohibition notices (where there is an imminent risk of serious environmental damage);

-suspension or revocation of environmental permits and licenses;

-variation of permit conditions London, Bristol and Exeter;


-carrying out remedial works (where we carry out remedial works, we will seek to recover the full costs incurred from those responsible)

-criminal sanctions, including prosecution;

-civil sanctions, including financial penalties.

Further Guidance on Enforcement and Sanctions

Further Information on Offence Response Options

Environmental Law and EIA

EIA is the process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the environmental effects of development proposals before major decisions are taken and commitments made. It is thus closely linked with the land use planning system’s role in approving or refusing
new development, and with the concept of preventive action. Originating in the USA in the late 1960s, EIA is recognized under international law (eg by the ICJ), and has generated a large literature. EIA can embrace a wide range of scientific and technical aspects, and has expanded demand for specialist consultants in a range of scientific areas. It covers direct and indirect effects on humans, fauna and flora, soil, water, air, climate and landscape, material assets and cultural heritage, and the interaction between them.

The EIA Directive (85/337/EEC, amended and extended by 97/11/EEC and 2003/55/EC) is a cornerstone of horizontal EEL. It requires member states to incorporate EIA in their planning systems, and makes EIA mandatory for certain major ‘Annex I’ projects (eg transport infrastructure, industrial and extraction plants, housing and tourism developments, power stations, radioactive waste treatment, chemical installations). For Annex II developments the competent authority MAY require an EA, with assessment
criteria devised case-by-case. An environmental statement is prepared by specialists on behalf of the developer, and
forms part of the application for permission to undertake the development. The statement identifies the likely significant environmental effects of the development (including the construction phase, and proposed monitoring and mitigation measures), and assesses costs
and benefits (eg more sustainable transport, remediation of past contamination). The competent authority sets the parameters through a scoping exercise, and the statement is available for public consultation.

There have been many complaints to the EC about non-implementation of EIA directives. Cases brought before the ECJ include Kraaijeveld (1996) and Bozen (2000), and cover such matters as the extent of discretion, and deciding whether a particular Annex II development required an EIA.

Environmental Law relating to Air

The global atmosphere in international law has a status of ‘common concern’, and the pace of collaboration through conventions and protocols has accelerated with the Kyoto initiative. The EU is taking measures to reduce greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) by increasingly stringent emission standards, and an integrated and international approach.

The EU created in 2000 an European Pollutant Emission Register, the first European-wide register of industrial emissions into air and water, and since 2006 has been extended to include more emitting facilities, require more substances reported, wider coverage and public participation, and annual instead of triennial reporting.

Emissions trading (or cap-and-trade) offers economic incentives for achieving reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide). The climate change levy seeks to reduce emissions in energy-intensive industry sectors (such as brewing, cement, printing, and animal feed). Companies or other entities that emit the pollutant are given credits or allowances which represent a right to emit a specific amount, and if exceeding their allowances must buy credits from those who pollute less than their allowances. In theory, the more firms that need to buy credits, the higher the price of credits becomes, which makes reducing emissions cost-effective in comparison, although in practice the first phase of the scheme ended with the collapse of carbon credit prices.

Moves to achieve a low carbon economy are reinforced through the cohesion policy’s SD focus, and are linked to more energy generation from renewable sources (particularly wind power). The key is the Directive on the Promotion of Electricity from Renewable Energy Sources in the Internal Electricity Market (2001/77/EC), under which. IMSS are required to adopt national targets for renewables against an EC target of 22 percent of electricity from renewables by 2010.

Environmental Law relating to Water

 Water is arguably the most comprehensively regulated area of EEL, with the protection of water quality always a concern of EU environmental regulation. A ‘first wave’ of water directives in the 1970s concerned such matters as surface water, drinking water, bathing water and ground-water. A ‘second wave’, following a review, included the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (91/271/EEC) and the Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC) on nitrates from agricultural sources (which can permeate into the water table, with adverse effects on human health). Pollution is tackled by setting minimum quality standards and the maximum quantities of pollutants that may be discharged. The general principles of EEL are applied (precautionary, polluter pays, preventive action, rectification at source, promotion of SD).

A further review and more global approach resulted in the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC). It rationalises and updates existing water legislation, gradually replacing the ‘old water directives’ (eg urban waste water, freshwater fish and drinking water). The long-term, co-ordinated framework for water management aims to improve water quality, reduce risks (for example from drought or flooding), and stop the deterioration of wetlands and such ecological habitats.

The key to the Water Framework Directive is the concept of river basin management, requiring closer co-operation between competent authorities (sometimes across IMS boundaries). An integrated policy on the long-term sustainable use of water will expand protection to cover all water bodies. The first step is to identify water bodies and the surrounding land area, called River Basin Districts, which are 'characterised' by assessing pressures and impacts, such as overuse or pollution. A River Basin Management Plan should set out how to improve water quality, so that inland and coastal waters can hopefully achieve ‘good status’ (ecological, chemical and/or quantitative) by the year 2015. ‘Priority’ and ‘priority hazardous’ substances should be identified, and hazards mitigated.

A national environment agency is normally the competent authority for implementing these measures, but the local land use planning system can restrict future development if there might be shortages of water supply, or significant flood risk. A Common Implementation
Strategy includes working groups on key activities, such as information sharing, data management, testing and validation, and often works through non-statutory partnerships, which seek to balance competing land uses, with local land use planning policy having a
ignificant role.