Environment Bill (the OEP) (England & UK part)

The Environment Bill creates a new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), in England (with extension to Northern Ireland), I identified this in an earlier post.

This is necessary because Exiting the EU will leave a gap in governance.

The Bill –

– creates a statutory obligation on the Secretary of State, in exercising functions relating to the OEP, for example when making ministerial appointments to the OEP, to have regard to the independence of the OEP

[a Ministerial Statement will confirm the OEP will be given five year ring fenced indicative budget]

– covers climate change – the earlier exclusion of climate legislation is removed

– could consider in scope the spending of other departments on matters that related to environmental law (this is not however, the same, as the EU’s explicit incorporation of the environment in the policy making of all departments)

– envisages and facilitates (via information sharing) cooperation and mandates consultation (on transboundary areas) with any equivalent ‘devolved environmental body’ that is set up in Scotland and Wales

– extends to Northern Ireland (a Schedule in the Bill covers this) if so mandated by a restored Stormont – the Schedule provides for the Chair of such a NI extension to be selected by the Secretary of State for NI and DAERA (the environment department in NI)

– includes ‘environmental review’ enforcement powers in the Upper Tribunal

The OEP will launch to coincide with the IP (Implementation Period) completion day – 31st Dec 2020.

Scotland and Wales have made no announcements re their own bodies.

Environment Bill (published) Parts 1&2 (UK Brexit)

Exit day is 31st October (this date is set out in a Statutory Instrument)

The Bill is here. 130 Clauses in 8 Parts, and 20 Schedules.

The Explanatory Memorandum is here.

The Environment Bill (“the Bill”) is comprised of two thematic halves.

(1) A legal framework for environmental governance once the UK leaves the EU.

This was earlier published in part as the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill on 19 December 2018, fulfilling a legal obligation set out in section 16 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The measures published at that time related only to environmental principles and governance, and placing the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan on a statutory footing.

(2) Provision for specific improvement of the environment, including measures on waste and resource efficiency, air quality and environmental recall, water, nature and biodiversity, and conservation covenants.

Part 1 – the Environmental Governance Part of the Environment Bill – includes –

– allowing the government to set long-term targets (of at least 15 years duration) in relation to the natural environment and people’s enjoyment of the natural environment via statutory instrument;

– requiring the government to meet long-term targets, and to prepare remedial plans where long-term targets are not met;

– requiring the government to set, by October 2022, at least one long-term target in each of the priority areas of air quality, water, biodiversity, and resource efficiency and waste reduction;

– requiring the government to set and meet an air quality target for fine particulate matter in ambient air (PM2.5);

– requiring the government to periodically review all environmental targets to assess whether meeting them would significantly improve the natural environment in England;

– establishing the process by which a long-term target is set and amended, as well as an enhanced process where a long-term target is lowered or revoked;

– requiring the government to have, and maintain, an Environmental Improvement Plan, a plan to significantly improve the natural environment, which sets out the steps the government intends to take to improve the natural environment, and which sets out interim targets towards meeting the long-term targets;

– requiring the government to produce an annual report on the Environmental Improvement Plan, to consider progress towards improving the natural environment and meeting the targets;

– requiring the government to review the plan periodically, to consider progress and whether further or different steps are needed to improve the natural environment and meet the targets, and if appropriate revise the plan;

– requiring the government to collect and publish data used to measure progress in improving the natural environment and meeting the targets;

– requiring the publication of a policy statement on environmental principles setting out how environmental principles specified under the Bill are to be interpreted and applied by Ministers of the Crown during the policymaking process;

creating a new, statutory and independent environmental body, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), to hold government to account on environmental law and its Environmental Improvement Plan once the UK leaves the EU;

– defining the scrutiny, complaints and enforcement functions of the OEP and their scope;

– establishing an OEP enforcement process of environmental review in the Upper Tribunal; and

– defining the nature of the OEP, including considerations of membership, remuneration, staffing, powers, reporting, funding, accounts and other issues.

Part 2 – the Environmental Governance: Northern Ireland Part of the Environment Bill – includes –

– extending the application of the OEP to Northern Ireland, and making separate provision for Environmental Improvement Plans and environmental principles in Northern Ireland.

Delegated Powers Statement is here. [Environment is a delegated responsibility in the UK]

The delegated powers in the Bill fall into five thematic categories.

(1) there are powers that are needed as a result of the UK leaving the EU;

(2) there are provisions which modify, or are based upon, existing delegated powers;

(3) there are provisions which create new delegated powers to give effect to new environmental policy;

(4) there are powers for devolved administration ministers to make equivalent provision to UK Ministers;

(5) there are general provisions which are required for the Bill to have effect.

Provisions falling into the first category are intended to avoid a governance gap and to ensure the government can deliver on its environmental ambition when the UK leaves the EU.

All of the powers in Parts 1 and 2, plus six other powers fall into this category, as below:

– Existing environmental targets are largely derived from EU law and when the UK leaves the EU it may wish to set its own targets that differ and go beyond those of the EU that will have been retained for the time being in domestic law.

– Clauses 1 and 2 provide for regulations to set targets for matters relating to improving the natural environment or people’s enjoyment of it, and an air quality target in respect of the pollutant fine particulate matter (“PM2.5”).

– Environmental principles are reflected in various international instruments and are set out in the EU treaties. However, a clear articulation of these principles has never been laid out clearly at a national level. The Environment Bill will change this through requiring the publication of a statutory policy statement (clause 16) on the interpretation and proportionate application of the principles, to which Ministers will have a duty to have due regard when making policy. (This is not a delegated legislative power but it is included in Annex A. Northern Ireland has the same power in paragraph 6 of Schedule 2.)

– Clause 40(5) would allow the Secretary of State to set out in secondary legislation which legislative provisions come within the definition of “environmental law”, if required, in order to ensure that there is clarity about the scope of that definition (which in turn will define the scope of the OEP’s enforcement function). Northern Ireland would have the same power in paragraph 18(6) of Schedule 3. The aim of this power is to provide certainty to the OEP, public authorities and the public about the OEP’s remit, in the unlikely case that uncertainty cannot be resolved by other means.

– A number of regulation-making powers (clauses 56, 58, 79-81, 122 and Schedule 20) allow Ministers to make changes in relation to regulations made under section 2(2) European Communities Act 1972. This will, for example, ensure that the lists of priority substances for surface waters and groundwater and their environmental quality standards do not remain fixed and therefore potentially out of date or unsuitable for domestic conditions after the UK has withdrawn from the EU. Tying the UK’s standards to those set historically in the EU could increase risks to the water environment. A further example is a power that would ensure the regulation of international waste shipments can respond to the changes in the methods and practices of those engaged in illegal waste shipment activity.

Further Blog posts will cover the other parts of this important Bill.