The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) was established by the Environment Act 2021 and its remit covers England and Northern Ireland. The OEP has now published its work programme for its first year, and also its Strategy and Enforcement Policy.
The work programme is here.
The Strategy and Enforcement Policy is here.
The OEP’s role is to hold government and other public authorities to account for their environmental commitments in environmental law.
The documents published clarify that the OEP will monitor and report on a wider set of targets that fall under the definition of environmental law, rather than just those that come under the Environment Act 2021, to pursue its objective of sustained environmental improvement. The OEP will also look at the landscape of international environmental targets, assess progress towards these and use this evidence to flag any potential gaps in government’s targets as part of OEP monitoring and reporting on environmental improvement plans and the implementation of environmental law.
The way in which OEP can take public authorities to court differs in England and in Northern Ireland. In England, the statutory process is ‘environmental review,’ which is a bespoke process available to the OEP, the detail of which is set out in the Environment Act. In Northern Ireland, the OEP can take public authorities to court through making a ‘review application,’ which is a challenge by way of judicial review. The OEP has reviewed its enforcement policy to ensure that the differences between these two procedures are highlighted in the appropriate places.
The OEP is only able to take enforcement action in situations where public authorities are alleged to have failed to comply with environmental law. Environmental law means any legislative provision to the extent that it is mainly concerned with environmental protection. In considering whether law is environmental, the OEP will assess whether the relevant individual provision in question is mainly concerned with environmental protection. The OEP’s enforcement policy is updated to further explain the meaning of environmental law in this context.