Environmental Protection Act

Applies to EnglandApplies to WalesApplies to Scotland

Title: Environmental Protection Act

Category: England, Wales and Scotland Law

Date: 1990 (amended Scotland 2001)

Reference: ISBN 0105443905 (SSI 2001/99) [Full text]

General Description:This act brings in a system of integrated pollution control for the disposal of wastes to land, water and air. The parts of the Act that have a bearing on agriculture are:

Part I establishes integrated pollution control and gives Local Authorities new powers to control air pollution from a range of prescribed processes;

Part II improves the rules on waste disposal; and

Part III covers statutory nuisances and clean air.

Part I

Regulations drawn up to implement part I are found in the Environmental Protection Act (Prescribed Processes and Substances) Regulations 1991. Pollution of the environment under the Environmental Protection Act is defined as release of any substance into air, water or land as a result of any process which causes harm to man. The term harm extends to offences of human senses plus damage to any property, while a process is defined as any activity capable of causing pollution. The Secretary of State for the Environment has the power to make any process a prescribed process, processes subject to central control must be authorised by the Environment Agency, while those under local control must be authorised by the local authority.

The industrial processes are split in two categories, A and B. 'A' processes are carried out at large sites concerned with chemical production, metal or mining processing, petroleum refining, power generation or waste disposal. These processes are governed by Integrated Pollution Control as enforced by the Environment agency, all other process fall into the 'B' category and are governed by the local air pollution controls enforced by the local authorities.

Once a process has been made a prescribed process then it can only be carried out under and in accordance with an authorisation. It is unlikely that any agricultural processes will fall into schedule 'A' processes but is possible that some may fall under schedule 'B', these can be found under prescribed processes for agriculture. Application should be made to the relevant authority and at least once every four years this authorisation should be reviewed. For a 'B' process applications should initially be made to the environmental health officer and the costs are typically around 800 plus an annual tariff of about 500. For 'A' processes, emissions should be measured constantly and for 'B' processes the emissions should be measured at regular intervals by a consultant.

At any time during the authorisation period, the authorisation may be adjusted by serving a variation notice upon the holder. The holder must then inform the relevant authority of what measures he intends to carry out to ensure the process in question is carried out in accordance with the amended terms. If a person wishes to modify a prescribed process he must first notify the informing authority to determine if the changes are permissible. However, when a change in a prescribed process occurs a fee is payable by the holder of the authorisation.

Part II

Under this part of the Environmental Protection Act, pollution of the environment is defined as the release of any substance as a result of the treatment, storage or depositing of controlled waste on land or within a plant which consequently causes harm to man. Treatment encompasses recycling activities and controlled waste includes household, industrial and commercial waste. Generally the first is generated at domestic premises, the second is produced at factories and the third is created at premises used for trade, business, sport, recreation or entertainment purposes.

Under the Environmental Protection Act depositing, treating, storing or disposing of controlled waste is forbidden unless under and in accordance with a waste management licence (this does not apply to household waste in domestic properties). In addition to this exemption, the Secretary of State for the Environment can decide that certain deposits or means of treatment are innocuous enough to be excluded or that adequate control is provided by another enactment. A person who contravenes this requirement or breaks any condition of a licence, is in breach of the law. This is unless they can prove that they took all reasonable precautions to avoid committing an offence, or were acting unwittingly on the orders of an employer, or were responding to an emergency in order to prevent any danger to human health and took steps to minimise both environmental damage and risk to human health. Waste management licences are granted by the Environment Agency to the occupiers of the land where the waste is treated, stored or disposed and to the operators of relevant mobile plants. Licences are issued on whatever terms are relevant and requirements can be imposed which must be complied with both before and after the operation in question. The Environment Agency is required to hold a record of all current licence holders and applications for and modifications to licences. Although this register can be examined by the public, if a certain record is considered commercially sensitive then it may be omitted.

This regime was finally introduced under the Waste Management Licensing Regulations.

Part III

A statutory nuisance is defined as a premises which are deemed to be detrimental to health or a nuisance, or are emitting dust, steam, smells, effluvia or noise with this effect. Every Local authority has to inspect the area it covers to check for statutory nuisances, if a complaint of statutory nuisance is made by a resident then the local authority must investigate. If a statutory nuisance is deemed to exist then a notice will be served requiring the abatement of the nuisance and this notice shall include a list of steps that should be taken to reduce the nuisance. Contaminated land is not considered a statutory nuisance.

This Act is amended in Scotland by the The Environmental Protection Act 1990 (Amendment) (Scotland) Regulations 2001.  Section 113 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 ("the 1990 Act") confers power to make and from time to time revise a scheme of fees payable in respect of applications for consents under Part VI (genetically modified organisms) of the 1990 Act and charges in respect of the subsistence of such consents.  These Regulations amend section 113 of the 1990 Act so as to provide that in making a scheme under that section Scottish Ministers may, with the consent of the Secretary of State, provide for any functions under the scheme to be performed by a Minister of the Crown or government department where Scottish Ministers consider it expedient to do so in relation to the implementation of Council Directive 90/220/EEC on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms.

Pertinence to Agriculture: Agricultural Pollution, Waste, Statutory Nuisance

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