Environmental Damage and Environmental Liability

The European Communities (Environmental Liability) Regulations 2008 came into force in Ireland on 1 April 2009.  These Regulations (SI 547 of 2008) transpose EU Directive 2004/35/CE on environmental liability with regard to the prevention and remedying of environmental damage.  

The Regulations supplement existing national and European legislation by establishing a framework of environmental liability based on the 'polluter-pays' principle, making operators of an occupational activity (defined in Regulation 2) liable for the prevention and remediation of environmental damage that they may, or have, caused.   

The EPA was designated as the Competent Authority for all aspects of these Regulations. 

What Defines Environmental Damage? 

Environmental damage under the Environmental Liability Regulations means: 

  • Water damage that has significant adverse effects on water status under the Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EU
  • Land damage that creates a significant risk to human health as a result of the direct or indirect introduction, in, on or under land, of substances, preparations, organisms or micro-organisms 
  • Damage to protected species and natural habitats

The Regulations represent an overarching piece of legislation that can be used in concert with all the Agency's existing powers but will only be used in the appropriate circumstances when environmental damage has occurred. 

The Regulations place an obligation on an Operator to take preventative measures to dispel any threats of environmental damage, or where damage has occurred to take measures to contain further damage.  In addition, an operator must notify the EPA where an imminent threat, or actual case of, environmental damage has occurred.  This can be done through the on-line submission form below. 

The Regulations require the EPA as competent authority to direct operators to take measures (preventative or remedial) where there is an imminent threat of, or actual case of, environmental damage.  It is an offence if an operator fails to comply with any such direction. 

Report an environmental damage incident 

As an operator, you are required to notify the EPA where you believe there is an imminent threat of environmental damage or where environmental damage has occurred. 

Submit details online of an incident or observation.  

This form may also be used by affected members of the public or members of environmental advocacy organisations to submit observations with respect to cases of imminent threat or actual environmental damage. 

Guidance 

The EPA published guidance on the Regulations in 2011.  More recently, in April 2021, the European Commission published guidelines providing an interpretation of environmental damage.  The EPA guidelines will be updated to reflect these guidelines.  In the interim, the EC guidelines should be read in conjunction with the EPA guidance, and considered to supersede the EPA guidance where differences arise.  

Make a query about environmental damage and environmental liability 

Any queries on the Regulations should be addressed to our Environmental Liability Unit which can be contacted via email info@epa.ie (clearly stating it is an Environmental Liability Unit query); by phone on LoCall 1890 33 55 99; or you can write to us at: 

Environmental Liability Unit 
Environmental Protection Agency 
Headquarters 
PO Box 3000 
Johnstown Castle Estate 
Co. Wexford 

Learn more 

Implementation of environmental liability law in the EU 

European Commission website on Environmental Liability 

European Commission report on the effectiveness of the Environmental Liability Directive 

Legislation on Environmental Liability 

European Communities (Environmental Liability) Regulation 2008 (SI 547 of 2009) 

Environmental Liability Directive 2004/35/CE