When the polluter must pay!

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With climate change moving higher up the global agenda and the upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow, environmental protection is more important than ever.  

The “polluter pays” principle is underpinned in law and will also be central to the Environment Bill which is expected to receive royal assent this year.

The “polluter pays” principle is one of the five internationally recognised environmental principles which will be included in the Environment Bill with the aim of preventing and minimising pollution and Environmental Damage. 

Environmental damage is defined in The Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) (England) Regulations 2015 (ED Regulations) as:

  • a protected species or natural habitat, or a site of special scientific interest;
  • surface water or groundwater;
  • marine waters; or
  • land.

What is the “polluter pays” principle (PPP)?

PPP means that those responsible for causing pollution should bear the costs of cleaning it up and preventing or mitigating further damage to the environment and to human health. 

By placing the financial burden on the polluting party, as the party who ought to pay to remediate and mitigate the damage it has caused, PPP incentivises businesses to:

  • better organise activities which have the potential to cause environmental damage;
  • take pollution prevention and control seriously;
  • minimise environmental damage by attaching potentially severe cost and reputational implications;
  • take environmental responsibility; and
  • ensure it has sufficient funds to pay for potential clean-up costs. 

The ED Regulations deal with both the prevention of environmental damage and environmental damage once damage has been caused:

What does the law say now?

The ED Regulations reinforces the PPP by making operators financially liable for both threats of environmental damage and actual environmental damage caused.

The ED Regulations require remediation of environmental damage caused, removing any significant risk to human health. As a minimum, the remediation must ensure that the contaminants are removed, controlled, contained or diminished so that the land, taking account of its lawful current use or any planning permission in existence at the time of the damage, no longer poses any significant risk of adverse effects on human health.

What does the future hold?

The PPP signifies the shift in recent years towards the concept of environmental accountability. The PPP is an example of the wider desire to address pollution at its source. 

The upcoming Environment Bill is expected to codify these environmental principles and set out a new legal framework for the UK for environmental protection in a post-Brexit world.

Do you need to speak to an expert about the PPP?

We advise organisations of all sizes facing environmental-related investigations and negotiations with the regulator as well as non-contentious environment matters. If you would like further information please contact our expert listed below or visit our Environmental service page for more information on how we can help. 

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