Belfast Telegraph

Back on table: environmental watchdog plan

By Michael McHugh

An independent environment agency could be set up in Northern Ireland.

The province is the only part of the UK without an autonomous unit and the Environment Minister Alex Attwood is considering reversing the Government’s position.

Options being considered include improving Northern Ireland Environment Agency regulation, transferring all its functions to an independent agency or moving responsibilities from other departments to the agency. It could involve devolving regulating air, water, land, waste and environmental crime working within a policy framework set by the department.

Campaigners like Friends of the Earth have vociferously supported such a move.

Mr Attwood said: “The time is now right to revisit this issue and I am calling on key interests to let me have their views on options for a new Independent Environment Agency.”

He said it was not a formal consultation.

“What I want to do is to test the water to establish what appetite there may be for complete structural reform leading to a truly independent agency, with the necessary powers, to manage our environment,” he said.

“The issue of who manages our environment is not a dusty bureaucratic matter but is important not only for us but for generations to come, it is crucial that we get it right.”

DUP peer Lord Morrow said: “As with every Government department, there are a huge number of important issues facing the Department of the Environment.

“In the face of all these issues, it is difficult to understand why the Environment Minister is looking at revisiting an issue which was decided upon only a few years ago.”

Friends of the Earth welcomed publication of the discussion document.

Director James Orr said: “For Friends of the Earth, and the many people who suffer environmental injustice in Northern Ireland, the need for an independent Environmental Protection Agency has never gone away.

“It’s now time to take the politics out of the environment and have independent regulation and enforcement.”

Background

In 2008 then Environment Minister Arlene Foster said there would be no independent Environment Protection Agency (EPA). The main demand for one came from various environmental non-governmental organisations. At the time Ms Foster said: “I’m opposed to the setting-up of yet more quangos where unelected people take decisions on behalf of the people.”

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