The Environment Agency published its updated guidance for permitted facilities earlier this week (12 July).
While the requirement for an enclosed building as a default option was dropped, it remains an appropriate measure (see letsrecycle.com story).
The Environment Agency guidance is seen as implementing the BREF and the concept of best available techniques (BATs).
Jennifer Watts is chief executive of UROC, a skip hire and waste sector trade association. She said the association has complained to the Agency that the imposition of BAT on waste operators “is not a legal requirement”, and added that a small waste transfer station can not be compared with an energy from waste plant, “which is essentially what the guidance does”.
The Environment Agency has reiterated throughout that the guidance is not mandatory, but would instead look to “frame the discussion” with an operator about what is required.
The Agency has also said it does not mean that every facility will have to be enclosed, and it is for the operator to “have regard to our guidance and make a compelling justification as to what is being done”.
However, Ms Watts said the way in which the EA implements guidance amounts to back door regulation of permitted facilities.
She said: “They [the EA] say that it is not mandatory, but officers on the ground score operators for not having a management system that identifies and minimises risks of pollution if they have not implemented the EA’s guidance.
“The EA said operators can always raise a complaint, but in our view the complaints procedure only pays lip service to the real issues raised by operators as we have vast experience of team leaders and area managers simply agreeing with officers down the chain rather than robustly considering and assessing issues.”
Ms Watts added: “This has been the case with the complaint we have raised in respect of this guidance, with a request to escalate to director level met with a letter saying the directors agree with the guidance. We asked for the matter to be reviewed by Sir James Bevan if necessary, but this was ignored. If the EA is not prepared to constructively engage with us on behalf of the sector, individual operators trying to challenge draconian decision making will not stand a chance.”
A further issue raised by Ms Watts was on the training officers are given before inspecting waste sites.
Many operators claim that without sufficient training officers will refer to the guidance when inspecting sites and not understand alternative options to appropriate measures.
Ms Watts said: “The EA tried to assuage our concerns about officers not maintaining sufficient experience, knowledge or skills to properly assess sites or consider alternative measures and will instead apply the guidance in textbook fashion and make it a tick box exercise for operators to follow to the letter or face enforcement action including permit suspension and revocation.”
UROC’s chief executive concluded by saying she welcomes initiatives to raise industry standards, but said this particular guidance could be devastating for the sector and will forcing many sites to close, “losing extremely valuable waste infrastructure which is so desperately needed”.