The Government has recently laid the draft Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2015 before Parliament, which give the Environment Agency (EA) the power to accept enforcement undertakings for certain offences under the Environmental Permitting (EP) Regime. The Regulations are due to come into force on 6 April 2015 and will only apply to England.
Enforcement undertakings are civil sanctions; they provide regulators (such as the EA) with greater flexibility in ensuring compliance with the EP Regime. In giving an enforcement undertaking, an offender will voluntarily approach the regulator with an offer to remediate any damage they have caused. This approach is beneficial to the offender as it avoids being convicted of a criminal offence. However if the offender fails to comply with the undertaking, the regulator will still have the ability to prosecute the offender for their original offence. Enforcement undertakings will be available for all of the main environmental permitting offences, excluding breaches of enforcement notices and any offence involving deception or fraudulent mis-reporting.
For the EA, the new Regulations will simply enable them to accept enforcement undertakings where they have been voluntarily offered by the offender. For businesses, the benefits are numerous. The Regulations enable offending companies to deal with a breach in a more cost and time effective manner, whilst avoiding the potentially damaging stigma of a criminal conviction.