Annual Highlights 2005 Enforcement Delivering Results for Ireland’s Environment

Date released: Feb 09 2006

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today published its Annual Highlights 2005 report.  In her statement, the Agency’s Director General, Dr. Mary Kelly said that significant progress had been made for Ireland’s environment in 2005.  “Three areas stand out as marking particular progress during the year: the effective stamping out of large scale illegal dumping, improved enforcement of environmental legislation and the establishment of a National Emissions Trading Registry”, she said.

Unauthorised waste activities

The Office of Environmental Enforcement focused on tackling illegal waste activities in Ireland with significant success in 2005.  A report outlining unauthorised waste activities in Ireland concluded that large-scale illegal dumping, such as that experienced in Co. Wicklow from 1997 – 2002, was no longer occurring.  Illegal cross border movement of waste had also reduced significantly as a result of increased vigilance and cross border co-operation.

However, several challenges remain.  Currently, 21 per cent of Irish households are not availing of or being provided with a waste collection service.  Over fifty percent of local authorities have reported problems with unauthorised waste collection in their areas and levels of backyard burning and fly-tipping have increased.  

Dr Kelly said, “Tackling illegal waste activities in Ireland was a key priority for the EPA in 2005 and I am happy to report that major illegal waste activities have been stamped out. However, I would caution against complacency; environmental enforcement authorities including the EPA will have to remain vigilant.  Serious legacy issues from illegal and unauthorised dumping in the past remain to be dealt with, but good progress is being made.” 

Enforcement of licences issued by the EPA

Enforcement of licences issued by the EPA continued to yield results. The Office of Environmental Enforcement availed of a range of enforcement options to prevent or remedy pollution from industrial and waste management sources. Significant resources were targeted at auditing and inspecting higher risk facilities and inspectors conducted 173 audits and 703 inspections of licensed IPPC and waste facilities.  In total, 619 non-compliance notices were served. 

Twenty prosecutions were brought against licensees in the District Courts.  Convictions were handed down in 16 of the cases, three were referred to higher courts (Waterford County Council, Waterford City Council and Schwarz Pharma Limited) and one case was dismissed on a court technicality.  As of the end of the year, the EPA has a further 11 District Court cases on hand. 

Dr Kelly said, “Legal action by the EPA led to direct investment by licensees of approximately €19 million to improve site infrastructure and management at various facilities during 2005. This was in addition to the ongoing investments being made by licensed facilities. The EPA will continue to focus on enforcement of environmental legislation in the future.”  

Improved performance of local authorities

The activities of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement brought a new focus to enforcement of environmental legislation in Ireland and led to a number of successes including a dramatic turnaround in compliance with waste export regulations at ports.

“Work carried out by the Environmental Enforcement Network significantly reduced the illegal trafficking of waste to mainland Europe and also developed the capacity of local authorities to enforce environmental legislation – a critical move in the control of unauthorised waste activities”, commented Dr Kelly.  “Credit is due to Local Authorities who have prioritised this issue.”

Performance monitoring of local authorities continued and 22 audits were carried out on wastewater and drinking water treatment plants.  The Office of Environmental Enforcement also undertook 244 investigations in relation to activities that were the responsibility of local authorities on foot of complaints made to the EPA.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading

Much work was carried out in relation to Emissions Trading, an EU scheme which seeks to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions among the largest producers.  In 2005 the EPA allocated a total of 66.96 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emission allowances.   

Companies with emissions above the cap must either abate their emissions or purchase allowances to meet their requirements while companies whose emissions are below the cap may trade their excess. 

Dr Kelly said, “The scheme provides an incentive for companies to reduce their emissions by issuing then with a cap on the amount of CO2 they are allowed to emit in any year. As participant companies surrender allowances for the first time in Spring 2006, a clearer picture of the potential for reductions in emissions and the costs to industry of the pilot phase will begin to emerge.”

Enforcing Waste Electrical and Electronic Waste regulations

Prevention was a major focus for the Office of Licensing & Guidance in its work to reduce emissions to air, water and land, to reduce waste and ensure the more efficient

use of energy. New regulations applicable to electrical and electronic waste were introduced in August and resulted in the collection of approximately 5,000 tonnes of such waste at recycling centres countrywide before year-end, a four-fold increase on the total figure for 2004. The EPA is responsible for enforcing the regulations and legal action has already been instigated in three instances. 

“These regulations are consumer-friendly and environment-friendly”, said Dr Kelly.  “Compliance by retailers and producers is vital to ensure the success of the scheme.  Failing to comply with the requirements of the Regulations potentially reduces the amount of waste electrical and electronic equipment that can be collected and diverted from landfill.” 

Licensing

The EPA issued two licences for the development of incinerator facilities at Duleek in Co. Meath and Ringaskiddy in Co. Cork in 2005.  The licences were granted following comprehensive oral hearings on both applications.  The facilities will be subject to some of the most stringent conditions in Europe, as enforced by the EPA. 

Technical guidance documents continue to ensure best practice and 2005 saw the publication of guidance on Ozone Depleting Substances, Solvents Regulations and Strategic Environmental Assessment.  The development of web-based EU Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive resources has given policy makers and the general public increased and easier access to relevant environmental information.

Water Quality

The Water Framework Directive has set the ambitious goal of good status to be achieved in Europe’s waters by 2015.  The EPA funded key research in support of this Directive in 2005 and also coordinated a Water Characterisation Report submitted to the EU Commission in March 2005.  The Water Quality in Ireland Report 2001–2003 concluded that Ireland’s water quality remains of a relatively high standard but that gains made in the late 1990s in reducing the extent of rivers affected by over-enrichment have not been sustained. 

Research and Education 

Education and research funding remained a key focus of the EPA’s ongoing programme. In 2005, research grants totalling €10 million were allocated across seven distinct areas of expertise such as Biodiversity, Environmental Technologies and Urban Environment.  Sponsorships, including that of the first ever ‘Environmental Ireland’ conference and the third series of RTE television’s EcoEye, were well received.

Conclusion

Commenting at the launch of the document, Dr. Mary Kelly, Director General of the EPA said,  “2005 saw the EPA capitalise on its consistent investment in top quality personnel, research and resources.  While the role of the Agency continues to be a challenging one, the EPA has been making significant advances in relation to the enforcement of existing environmental laws and working to bring Ireland in line with EU environmental directives.  New work across increasingly complex areas has been assigned to the EPA in recent years and I am very glad to report that in 2005 the EPA received sanction for a significant increase in staffing levels.

“Our 2005 highlights and achievements will undoubtedly ensure that considerable progress continues to be made throughout 2006. Looking to the year ahead the EPA will focus on making significant progress on enforcement issues, building trust with communities, further improving customer service and targeting environmental research to help us meet new environmental challenges.   Climate change, waste management, particularly initiatives to reduce the amounts of waste generated, and maintaining and improving the quality of waters will remain priority areas.”

The document EPA Annual Highlights 2005 is available at http://www.epa.ie/

ENDS