Environment Agency
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Pollution at all time low but ‘no room for complacency’ warns Environment Agency chairman

Serious industrial pollution incidents have fallen to their lowest level for over a decade, the Environment Agency announced yesterday.

New data also indicates that businesses are increasingly recognising that growth and responsible environmental practices go hand-in-hand.

More companies than ever are earning the highest 'A' excellence rating for environmental performance, while the number receiving the lowest ratings continues to reduce.

The Environment Agency’s Sustainable Business Report also reveals that industry is continuing to cut waste and emissions to air – helping to reduce the nation’s health bill by an estimated £630 million since 2005.

Cutting regulation

In response to continuous good environmental performance, and to encourage sustainable growth, the Environment Agency cut regulatory costs for well-run businesses by £15 million a year last year, putting it on track to deliver savings to British business of £45 million a year against a 2010 baseline from 2015. The move means site operators who comply fully with their permits paid nearly 70% less in regulatory fees than those who performed poorly.

But while the annual stocktake in England and Wales praises the majority of companies for continuing to improve their environmental performance in tough economic times, the report also highlights some challenges.

Pollution incidents in the water and waste sectors, the largest permitted sectors, increased last year. Among contributing factors were an increase in the number of biowaste facilities in the waste industry which are new to regulation and increased self-reporting of incidents by water companies.

Bad neighbours

A minority of “bad neighbours’” businesses are causing unacceptable impacts on people and the environment in their communities. In addition, nearly 760 illegal waste sites were stopped in 2011 but improved detection methods by the Environment Agency's recently-formed specialist Illegal Waste Sites Taskforce resulted in over 1,000 new sites being identified within the first three months of this year. These illegal sites pose risks to people and the environment and shutting them down is the Taskforce's top priority.

Environment Agency Chairman, Lord Chris Smith, said the report showed that many businesses are recognising the value of sustainable growth but that some are still missing out on the opportunities presented by the search for a greener economic future.

He said: “Achieving both economic growth and the protection of the natural environment is not always easy but can be achieved. It will not happen without effective regulation of the impact business has on the environment and a commitment from businesses themselves to act as responsible neighbours and good corporate citizens.

“Reassuringly, the latest performance record shows businesses are increasingly recognising there is a value and opportunity in this broader sense of responsibility. However, there’s no room for complacency as a minority of businesses are still bad neighbours – and the environmental impacts from their activities result in complaints from local communities. The Environment Agency will continue to work with businesses, Government and communities to tackle serious pollution and irresponsible business practice.

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