Agency not ready for third-party assurance

15th August 2011


Ems

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  • Management ,
  • Environment agencies ,
  • EMS ,
  • Auditing

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IEMA

Plans for third-party auditors to provide the Environment Agency (EA) with assurance that firms are fulfilling their permit conditions are being postponed, possibly for three years, until the start of the regulator's 2015-18 charging period.

The agency had planned to roll out its EPR (Environmental Permitting Regulations) assurance schemes from April 2012 as part of an overhaul of site regulation, but they may now not start until April 2015.

“Implementation of the schemes has been revised due to the potential impact on our charging scheme,” Juliette Willems from the EA’s site regulation team told the environmentalist. “The new charging scheme is due in April 2012 and we will not be ready to roll the schemes out by then, partly due to restructuring within the agency, so they may need to wait until the next charging scheme, which is due to begin in April 2015.”

Under the plans, branded as EMS+, third-party auditors will assess a site against a sector-specific compliance protocol drawn up by the agency, with the aim of reducing regulatory inspections of sites with a good compliance classification score and which are already subject to external auditing of their environment management system. The process has implications for the charges levied on regulated sites, as it should mean lower charges and fewer visits.

The revision means that the start of the pilots in the cement, food and drink, and waste sectors, which were to begin from September, have now been postponed by at least a month, and they may now last for up to 18 months. They will also involve more operators, with 20 now ready to trial the new approach.

“We want to ensure the trials aren’t rushed. Some sites will now get two visits rather than one, which will hopefully provide us with robust evidence as to whether or not the approach works and is of benefit to all those involved,” explains Willems.

She says that the delay will also give the agency time to amend the proposed EMS+ checking tool.

The EA says it may try to roll out some schemes before April 2015 should the pilots prove successful, although this will depend on overcoming any barriers from charging arrangements.

Martin Baxter, executive director of policy at IEMA, believes the delay could be positive: “IEMA supports evidence-based policy, and the longer pilots will hopefully provide strong support for EMS+. They need to demonstrate whether firms and certification bodies can rise to the challenge of delivering regulatory compliance when the regulator steps back from making regular inspections.”

Meanwhile, as part of the government’s review of all existing 278 environmental regulations, which is due to begin on 1 September 2011, Defra has formed an industry-led group to help assess the need for regulations. The Environmental Industries Commission has welcomed the creation of the so-called “Red Tape Challenge Sounding Board”, although it is wary that any change to existing regulations could pose a risk to environmental protection.

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