In this latest Environmental Law News Update, Christopher Badger and William Upton consider penalties incurred by United Utilities for drinking water contamination, the publication of the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy, and Defra’s annual report on air quality.
United Utilities fined £300,000 for drinking water contamination
On 10 October 2017, at Preston Crown Court, United Utilities were fined £300,000 and ordered to pay £150,000 costs following a prosecution brought by the Drinking Water Inspectorate.
Back in August 2015, Cryptosporidium was detected in water supplies from the Franklaw water treatment works that required 700,000 people to boil their water for a prolonged period. The event came about following problems with work by United Utilities to repair a leak in a major aqueduct that supplies the works. A planned change in operations allowed the entry of contaminated water from a service reservoir to the treatment process.
The Drinking Water Inspectorate prosecuted under section 70 of the Water Industry Act 1991. It is a criminal offence for a water company to supply water that is unfit for human consumption.
It is clear that the increase in penalties resulting from the use of the Environmental Sentencing Guideline has had an impact on these cases. Back in 2001, Yorkshire Water Services Limited successfully appealed the financial penalty imposed for 17 offences contrary to s.70, reducing its fine from £119,000 to £80,000. The incidents arose out of a mixture of bad planning, bad organisation, poor quality engineering and, in the case of one of the incidents, disregard of the alarm system for the second time in twelve months. It is difficult to imagine that Yorkshire Water would achieve the same result in today’s climate.
There are currently a number of drinking water cases that are currently making their way through the Courts. Expect to see further penalties for similar offences. The DWI’s press release can be found here
Clean Growth Strategy published
On 12 October 2017 the Government finally published its Clean Growth Strategy (“CGS”), which is intended to set out its strategy to meet its legal obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008 for the fourth and fifth carbon budgets covering the periods, 2023-2027 and 2028-2032. By the end of the fifth carbon budget the UK must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 57% against the 1990 baseline.
Key policies and proposals include:
• To develop world leading Green Finance capabilities, including the setting up of a Green Finance Taskforce;
• Develop a package of measures to support businesses to improve their energy productivity, on which it will consult and explore;
• Improve the energy efficiency of homes – recent news reports have suggested that the government may look at using stamp duty as a method of encouraging home owners to become more energy efficient although this is not mentioned in the CGS;
• Ending the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040; and
• Publishing a new Resources and Waste Strategy.
Climate Change Minister Claire Perry asserted that the UK had more than met its targets in the second and third carbon budgets and was on track to meet the fourth and fifth budgets, a suggestion hotly disputed by ClientEarth which believes that the UK is on course to miss emissions reduction targets.
Whether the UK is or is not on course to meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets aside, what is clear is that the CGS marks a shift from the ‘carbon plan’ produced in 2011 for the third carbon budget, to a more economically focussed document with the Prime Minister writing in the foreword to the CGS, “Clean growth… benefits our wider economic prosperity.”
The full CGS can be found here
The interim National Infrastructure Assessment was also published last week, by the National Infrastructure Commission. The interim report examines seven key areas, and sets out what it considers are the priorities for helping meet the country’s infrastructure needs up to 2050. Those seven areas are:
• Building a digital society: fast, reliable data services everywhere.
• Connected, liveable city-regions: linking homes and jobs.
• New homes and communities: supporting delivery of new homes.
• Low-cost, low-carbon: ending emissions from power, heat and waste.
• Revolutionising road transport: seizing the opportunities of electric and autonomous vehicles.
• Reducing the risks of extreme weather: making sure the UK can stand up to drought and flooding.
• Financing infrastructure in efficient ways: getting the right balance between public and private sectors.
The deadline for responses to the consultation is 12 January 2018. The report can be found here
Defra reports on air quality
Defra has published ‘Air Pollution in the UK 2016’, its annual report on air quality required by the European Commission as a result of both the Council Directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe and the Air Quality Framework.
The report records (amongst other things):
• Six zones were compliant with the limit value for annual mean nitrogen dioxide. The remaining 37 zones exceeded this limit value.
• Four zones exceeded the target value for benzo[a]pyrene.
• Three zones exceeded the target value for nickel.
• All zones except one exceeded the long-term objective for ozone, set for the protection of human health.
Of particular concern is the fact that, in Defra’s equivalent 2015 report, Defra also stated that 37 zones exceeded the limit value for annual mean nitrogen dioxide. It is therefore not possible to identify any improvement in any part of the UK to the extent that a previously failing zone now meets legal limits. This failure is in spite of repeated legal battles on air quality and a Supreme Court judgment in April 2015 demanding “immediate action” to address air pollution.
The full report can be found here
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