The Environment Agency's lawyers are renowned specialists in environmental law across a wide range of regulatory regimes.
Their areas of expertise cover waste (including waste exports); water law (pollution and resources); contaminated land; major industry regulation; fisheries; radioactive substances; producer responsibility; conservation and land drainage; and flood protection.
In their absence, these services would need to be outsourced at greater expense. The lawyers also provide a wide range of legal services internally, typical of the normal requirements of a large organisation. Critical work areas include:
- dedicated support and advice to officers investigating environmental crime, performing routine compliance checks, or making environmental permitting decisions
- prosecution of criminal environmental offences, principally relating to water and other environmental pollution, and waste and fisheries offences
- leading on confiscation of assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act, including administering restraint orders.
The lawyers also defend any appeals, challenges and judicial reviews arising from aspects of the EA's work or advice.
The legal department supports the government in forming policy and statute, avoiding infraction proceedings, and ensuring EU obligations are met.
Why is this important?
The legal team provides a safety net for the agency, ensuring that it acts, through its officers, within the law.
Recent significant staff changes and the loss of experienced staff make this ever more important.
The service helps to maintain a level playing field for legitimate industrial operators by providing legal support for permitting decisions; routine regulatory inspection work; prosecuting environmental offenders; and the provision of flood defences
It also protects people and communities from harm and distress, and enables ready defence against challenges to the EA's decisions and actions.
Where the cuts may fall
The estimated cuts were initially reported as 15% across the whole function. The prosecution/enforcement teams were identified as bearing the brunt of these cuts.
However, this figure is now likely to increase as funds are diverted towards flood maintenance works. Further cuts will reduce the amount the agency can do.
The knock-on effect will be an increase in illegal waste and other activities. It will impact on the ability of legitimate industry to compete against illegal operators.
Cuts will also lead to:
- an increase in polluting discharges, with a risk to surface and groundwaters, including drinking water supplies
- a loss of revenue from licensing and permitting fees, with a negative feed-back impact on our ability to operate
The quality of life of households and communities will be adversely affected as illegal waste activity and operator breaches increase.
Cuts in this area will also slow down the implementation of new flood defence schemes and increase the risk of challenges to the agency's actions.