The Times, 16 August 2019:
You are right to question the weaknesses in the government’s proposal to establish an Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) after Brexit (“Green Brexit”, leading article, Aug 14). Climate change, for example, is specifically excluded from the remit of the OEP, as is indoor air pollution. As regards outdoor air quality, the UK has been in breach of EU air quality standards for nitrogen dioxide since 2010, and the government has suffered three defeats in the High Court over its failure to implement effective action. Having resisted legal judgments and failed to comply with EU air-quality standards for more than eight years, is it credible that the government would now seek to create an even more effective domestic system for scrutinising government policy?
It needs to be remembered that between 2003 and 2016, the EU Commission started 753 actions against the British government, of which 120 related to the environment. That equates to nine environmental actions every year. Most were settled, but 29 cases reached the European Court of Justice. In order to replicate this level of scrutiny at a domestic level, the OEP will need to be truly independent: it will need significant resources, as well as sufficient powers to investigate, gain access to relevant data, issue legally binding enforcement notices and monitor compliance. Ultimately it will need the power to take government ministers to court. It is not clear if any of these requirements will be met by the ill-defined proposals in the Draft Environment Bill that was updated last month.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Scientific advisor to the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution
Geraint Davies MP
Group chairman, House of Commons