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Government seeks to address post-Brexit environmental oversight fears

Draft legislation is expected to be put to parliament this Autumn that will define a new oversight body to police environmental regulations currently overseen by EU institutions

The UK government has said it will step up preparations to ensure a statutory body that can enforce environmental law in place of EU judicial institutions can be introduced “as soon as is practically achievable”.

Draft legislation is intended to be published this autumn to establish the remit and structure of the new body, which would be entrusted to fulfil enforcement of environmental standards that will likely impact building services functions.

The pledge was made in response to a recent report by parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee that has called for the formation of an independent oversight organisation post-Brexit to police and scrutinise any breaches of environmental law. This would include a failure to meet targets and restrictions around carbon emissions and the phase down of higher GWP refrigerant set out in the F-Gas regulations.

It is still unknown how the UK’s planned exit from the EU on March 29, 2019 may impact existing standards and environmental commitments that are currently under the purview of the European Commission and European Court of Justice. However, it is understood that industry, as well as the EU and UK governments are committed to reaching an agreement on continuing to adhere to F-Gas commitments that seek to ensure a Europe-wide shift from higher GWP refrigerant.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Audit Committee proposed the formation of an independent Environmental Enforcement and Audit Office (EEAO) to take up the oversight functions previously handled by EU institutions.

No agreement has yet been reached for a transitional deal that will set out the basic conditions of the UK’s future relationship with the EU and will define issues such as regulatory alignment, border policy and trade.

The government said it remained confident of ensuring a Brexit deal with the EU and added that it was working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on the possibility of establishing a UK-specific environmental oversight body. This organisation is intended to have the power to review and take enforcement action over any breaches of standards or regulation.

The government’s response said, “The EU (Withdrawal) Act will ensure existing EU environmental law continues to have effect in UK law after exit, providing businesses and stakeholders with maximum certainty as we leave the EU.”

“Until the new body is in place, for example, existing mechanisms will continue to apply: the Parliamentary Ombudsman will process complaints about maladministration; and third parties will be able to apply for Judicial Review against government and public authorities.”

Government has said that fresh legislation will be produced later this autumn to define how environmental regulations will be policed based on feedback from its consultation on Environmental Principles and Governance.

This proposed regulation is intended to be implemented into both the 2018 EU (Withdrawal) Act and a revised environmental bill that is yet to be introduced to parliament.

The response added, “Our draft legislation will set out plans for an independent and statutory environmental body which enhances our environmental protections as we leave the EU. This will build on our recent consultation which explored the current EU environmental governance mechanisms and the potential for the new body to have roles including scrutiny and advice, considering complaints about the implementation of environmental law, and taking enforcement action against government where necessary.”

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