Environmental liability regulations every business should know about

Guest Postenvironmental lawAll businesses have environmental responsibilities and these were made a legal requirement by the Environmental Liability Regulations 2009, which came into force in June 2009. It is essential that businesses make themselves aware of these regulations and the kind of impact their activities will have on the environment.

Environmental Liability Regulations
These regulations introduced in 2009 bring English law into line with the European Commission's Environmental Liability Directive. The main aim of these regulations is to improve and prevent damage caused by the effects of business on water, land and biodiversity.

The way they are implemented is based on the principle that the polluter should always pay. The regulations aim to achieve this by holding businesses financially liable for actual damage or potential damage to the environment. This puts the onus on businesses to foot the bill for any damage caused, or for the cost of preventative measures rather than on the taxpayer. The Regulations refer to businesses as "operators of commercial activities" and insists that they implement precautionary measures where appropriate to avoid damage to the environment and to take action if damage does occur. Environmental solicitors can provide useful definitions and advice on the more complex areas of environmental law, as can the relevant authorities.

Environmental damage defined
The Regulations define environmental damage according to three main categories: water damage, land damage and damage to species and habitat.

Water damage occurs when the ecological and chemical status of surface water or ground water deteriorates. Land damage applies to any contamination of land that poses a threat to human health. Damage to species and habitat occurs when protected species and natural habitats are damaged, especially if there are negative and significant effects on maintaining the optimum conservation status of these species and their natural habitats.

Pollution incidents and severe cases

There are existing laws in place covering day-to-day environmental incidents and the Regulations apply to incidents that cause significant environmental damage or threats. The Regulations list in Schedule 1 which incidents and their causes will be deemed to come under significant environmental damage. Most incidents involving pollution to not result in long-term water damage and damage-to-land incidents are also considered to be rare. Businesses should consult the Regulations for detailed information.

The reach of the Regulations extends to the UK seabed, taking in the Continental Shelf Act 1964 limits and the Renewable Energy Zone waters extending to around 200 miles out to sea. They also apply on land in England.

Environmental Authorities
The primary enforcing authority for biodiversity damage is Natural England. The other main authorities are the Environment Agency, the Marine Fisheries Agency and a range of local authorities.

If your business and its activities have caused actual damage to the environment, or you believe there is a threat, then it is essential that you do all you can to prevent damage or future damage. It is also crucial that you contact the relevant authority and notify them of the situation so that the necessary steps can be taken.

The primary objective of the Regulations is obviously to protect the environment, but they also aim to make businesses accountable by enforcing the polluter pays principle. The Regulations do cover incentives for businesses to prevent environmental damage. If a business owner is in any doubt about the effect of their activities on the environment, they can seek valuable advice from experts in this field, including environmental solicitors and the relevant authorities.

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