The Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, has gone to war with the mighty Treasury over their blocking progress on our environmental protections. There is a happy coincidence between this Cabinet bust up, the EU’s taking the government to court over its failure to act on air pollution and the Lords rejecting the government plans for a post Brexit environmental enforcement agency. It highlights why the government should scrap their current flabbyconsultation on the creation of an environmental protection agency and restart it based upon the Lords’ amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill.
The EU has finally acted to protect public health after 8 years of illegal air in the UK; it should have happened far sooner. I’ve been writing to the Commission since 2002 asking for them to reject plans by the government and successive London Mayors as inadequate. In the meantime, tens of thousands of people have died premature deaths because of government complacency and the vested interests of vehicle manufacturers.
If Brexit is going to be a success, then it needs to be a green Brexit. That’s why I welcome legal action being taken by the European Commission, because it highlights what a UK enforcement agency, with teeth, should do. One reason for the Lords’ rejection of government plans to create a new watchdog to take over the European Commission’s role, was that their proposed agency lacked any legal bite. It would be a lame lapdog of a quango, which would inconvenience no one and what is the point of that?
My own Clean Air Bill would not only make clean air a human right, it would also create a Citizens’ Commission with the power to support individuals and communities who wish to take legal action against organisations responsible for bad air. This could provide a template for other environmental issues, with the right to clean water being an obvious next step.
The new UK enforcement agency needs to be underpinned by strong principles written into primary legislation. The existing EU principles, like polluter pays, the protection of future generations, and animal sentience, have widespread support, which is why they are included in my Clean Air Bill and the Lords’ amendment. These would inform the agencies work on policy, strategy and its recommendations for action