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Environmental damage: your responsibilities

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If your business carries out activities that cause environmental damage, a new piece of legislation means that you will have to remedy the damage, and you will no longer have to be prosecuted first. If there is a risk of damage from your business activities, you must prevent such damage occurring.

On 1 March 2009 the Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) Regulations brought into force for England new rules (the Environmental Liability Directive) to force polluters to prevent and repair environmental damage that they have caused. This is known as the 'polluter pays' principle. The regulations are likely to be used only for the most serious cases of damage.

What is environmental damage?

Under the regulations, environmental damage is: damage to surface or underground water contamination of land where there is a significant risk to human health damage to natural habitats and species and protected sites.

Who do the environmental damage regulations affect?

Private businesses farming manufacturing construction and demolition waste management forestry.

Why are the environmental damage regulations needed?

Prosecutions against polluters can take a long time to conclude. During this time it can become more difficult and costly to repair the damage caused by the pollution. The regulations will make it quicker and less expensive to prevent or repair environmental damage.

What do you have to do?

If you or your activities threaten to cause, or have caused, environmental damage you must take steps to prevent the damage (or further damage) occurring inform the Environment Agency or other authorities who will tell you what you must do to repair the damage. If the Environment Agency has to repair the damage for you, you will have to pay the costs.

Who enforces the environmental damage regulations?

The Environment Agency, Natural England and local councils are responsible for administering and enforcing the regulations, depending on the type of damage involved. If you don't comply with the regulations, you can be prosecuted, fined and/or imprisoned. These regulations are likely to be implemented in Wales later in 2009. Similar regulations for Scotland and Northern Ireland are also likely to bring the Environmental Liability Directive into force in 2009.

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Last updated 8th June 2016