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In this year’s end of year comment, our Lexis®PSL Environment team consider what was their standout legal development in Environment in 2018. Our Lexis®PSL team also preview the anticipated talking points for Environment in 2019.
First published on Lexis®PSL on 12 December 2018.
This year the government consulted on the Environmental Principles and Governance Bill, which aims to introduce and implement the first independent environmental regulator to ensure the UK’s environmental standards remain in place post-Brexit. This is thought of as a singular and unparalleled opportunity to establish a world-leading body to hold government to account for environmental outcomes, as well as enshrine key environmental principles, which will together help to deliver the government’s 25-YearEnvironment Plan.
On 26 June 2018, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 came partly in force, including s 16 maintenance of environmental principles etc, which requires the Secretary of State to publish, within six months, a draft bill with a list of environmental principles and a requirement to establish an independent body to monitor compliance with those principles, with the power to take proportionate enforcement action, including legal proceedings if necessary, if the independent watchdog considers that a Minister of the Crown is not complying with environmental law. It also requires the Secretary of State to publish a statement of policy in relation to the application and interpretation of those principles by ministers. The response to the consultation and the draft Environmental Principles and Governance Bill are expected before Christmas 2018.
This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve and enhance environmental policy and environmental law in the UK. By creating a statutory statement of clearly defined environmental principles, the government can then devise a policy approach within this framework. Also, while the UK has a strong legal framework for environmental protection, including the implementation of environmental laws by regulatory authorities (such as the Environment Agency) and their enforcement through courts, the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union means that we will no longer be under the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice or the Court of Justice of the European Union. As such, the implementation of a new, independent environmental body to hold government to account on the environment will be critically important in replacing EU oversight, by providing independent scrutiny, objectivity, and impartiality for environment protection and enhancement. Additionally, the new body could have an even broader range of powers in terms of wider environmental governance.
You will find comprehensive coverage of the Environmental Principles and Governance Bill in our Brexit subtopic, including:
Dealing with plastic waste has become an increasingly important development and momentum is certainly growing in this area. The UK government and European Commission (EC) have vowed to tackle the plastic waste problem with a number of policies and legislative proposals being developed to deal with specific plastics waste stream issues.
The EC’s Strategy on Plastics published in January 2018 provides a list of action plans to be taken that will improve the economics and quality of plastic recycling, increase the trust in recycled plastics and boost the market, curb plastic waste and litter and drive up investments and innovation. Of course the nature of the UK’s relationship with Europe post March 2019 will affect the extent to which the action plans work their way into England and Wales legislation.
At a national level, we have seen lots of work on plastics, such as the ban on microbeads, which entered in force in the UK earlier this year, plus a pledge to extend the single-use carrier bag charge.
Additionally, there are several ongoing consultations and proposals on plastic waste management, including: the ban on distribution and/or sale of plastic straws, plastic stemmed cotton buds and plastic drink stirrers in England; a proposal for a deposit return scheme, and the anticipated Waste and Resource Strategy.
We have also seen the consultation on a single use plastics tax (tackling the plastic problem), to which a response has been published, as well as announcements made in Budget 2018. The momentum of this all this work at European and national level is likely to build into 2019.
Legislative and policy changes in this area are likely to increase and will impact on several areas including producer responsibility, safe disposal, re-use and recycling obligations, waste management, permitting, registration requirements and tax regimes. For more information, see Practice Note: Waste types and controls—plastics and News Analysis: Budget 2018—environmental headlines.
We will also be watching with interest:
As the UK prepares to withdraw from the EU in March 2019, Brexit will continue to be essential reading for all legal practitioners. See: Brexit—Lexis®PSL comments on key developments in 2018 and 2019.
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