The Environment Bill Explained
The Environment Bill will deliver cleaner air for all by requiring the government to set targets on air quality, including for fine particulate matter, the most damaging pollutant to human health.
Councils and other relevant public bodies will be required to work together more closely to tackle local air quality issues, and it will be easier for local authorities to enforce restrictions on smoke emissions from domestic burning, which pollutes our towns and cities. The government will also be required to regularly update its National Air Quality Strategy.
The Bill gives the government the power to make vehicle manufacturers recall vehicles if they do not comply with relevant environmental standards, ensuring illegally polluting vehicles are taken off the road quickly.
Here the HETAS team explains the finer details of the Environment Bill and what impact it will have on our industry.
The Clean Air Strategy was published in January 2019, and welcomed by the World Health Organisation as “an example for the rest of the world to follow”. It sets out the comprehensive action required across all parts of government to meet our legally binding targets to reduce emissions of five key pollutants, fine particulate matter (PM2.5), sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ammonia (NH3) and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), by 2020 and 2030, and secure significant public health benefits. This includes action to reduce emissions from a range of sources, including domestic solid fuel combustion, agriculture, and industrial sources. The Strategy also made a commitment to bring forward primary legislation on clean air, delivered in the Environment Bill.
The Environment Bill delivers key aspects of our Clean Air Strategy with the aim of maximising health benefits for our citizens and sits alongside our wider action on air quality.
The Bill introduces a legally-binding duty on the government to bring forward at least two air quality targets by October 2022.
The first is to reduce the annual average level of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in ambient air.
The second air quality target must be a long-term target (set a minimum of 15 years in the future), which will encourage long-term investment and provide certainty for businesses and other stakeholders. The environmental targets policy paper published in August 2020 outlined the proposal to break new ground and focus this target on reducing population exposure to PM2.5.
- The principle of a population exposure reduction target is to prioritise action that is most beneficial for public health and drive continuous improvement. This target will drive improvement across all areas of the country, even in areas that already meet the new minimum standard for PM2.5.
- This approach recognises there is no safe level or standard of PM2.5.
A new concentration target for PM2.5 will act as a minimum standard across the country, and a population exposure reduction target (PERT) will prioritise action to secure the biggest public health benefits drive continuous improvement across the whole country, not just in pollution hotspots.
We expect to publish a public consultation on proposed targets in early 2022.
The level and achievement date for both targets will be set in secondary legislation.
Clear framework for local action and collaboration
Government will also amend the existing substantive primary legislation:
- The Environment Act 1995, which sets up the local air quality management framework (amongst many other things), including local government responsibilities to tackle air pollution
- The Clean Air Act 1993, which enables local authorities to tackle smoke emissions from chimneys of buildings, fixed boilers and industrial plants.
The Bill builds on and improves these frameworks, enabling more effective action to tackle air pollution and deliver health benefits, as well as increasing transparency, cooperation between authorities and accountability at all levels.
Specifically looking at The Clean Air Act, some positive changes relating to enforcement will be brought about through The Environment Bill. The amendments to the Clean Air Act 1993 made through the Bill will help local authorities reduce pollution from domestic burning. Specifically, the amendments will:
- Replace the criminal offence of emitting smoke from a chimney in a smoke control area with a civil penalty regime, which allows for the removal of the statutory defences that currently hinder enforcement. This will enable quicker, simpler and more proportionate enforcement at a local level against the emissions of smoke within a smoke control area (SCA).
- Give local authorities powers to address pollution from solid fuel burning on inland waterway vessels (for example, canal boats) in smoke control areas.
- Strengthen the offences in relation to the sale and acquisition of certain solid fuels for use in smoke control areas, by removing the limit on the fine for delivering unapproved solid fuels to a building in a smoke control area, and requiring retailers of solid fuels to notify customers that that it is illegal to buy unapproved fuel for use in a smoke control area unless burning in an approved appliance.
- Amendments to the Environmental Protection Act 1990 allow local authorities to take more substantive action against those who repeatedly emit smoke and endanger human health by extending the system of statutory nuisance to private dwellings in SCAs. Smoke from chimneys that causes a nuisance could result in a local authority issuing an abatement notice. Breaching such a notice is a criminal offence and could result in the payment of fine, as is already the case outside SCAs.
How does a Bill reach Royal Assent?
A Bill is a proposal for a new law, or a proposal to change an existing law, presented for debate before Parliament. A Bill can start in the Commons or the Lords and must be approved in the same form by both Houses before becoming an Act (law). A Bill can start in the House of Lords or the House of Commons and is subject to a number of readings in both Houses before amendments are considered prior to moving to Royal Assent and becoming Law.
When a Bill has completed all its parliamentary stages in both Houses, it must have Royal Assent before it can become an Act of Parliament (law).
Royal Assent is the Monarch’s agreement to make the Bill into an Act and is a formality. There is no set time period between the consideration of amendments to the Bill and Royal Assent.
Stay tuned to the HETAS website, newsletter and social media channels for updates on the Environment Bill as it nears Royal Assent over the coming weeks.