The staff of the England Environment Agency claim that it has been reduced to such an extent that their jobs are no longer possible and that the regulator is no longer effective in deterring polluters.
Three EA officers have told the Guardian and Ends Report that they are finding it increasingly difficult to hold polluters accountable or improve the environment because of the body’s policies.
The officers would like to remain anonymous as Sir James Bevan is the EAs chief executive. Sack anyoneOne officer said that the agent is openly criticised by this.
Although the Environment Agency has a large budget, officers claim that it is not being used to improve or protect the environment. Over the past two-years, government grants to the agency increased from 880m in 2009-10 to 1.05bn in 2019. Flood operations money has also steadily increased. However, the government funding for environmental protection work by the agency has declined from around 170m in 2009-10 down to a low point of 76m and 94m respectively in 2019-20.
According to officers, the deprivation of work that does not generate income for the agency, such a attending pollution incidents, is a result. Last week, the Guardian reported that the agency would no long respond to incidents of lower-impact pollution.
One EA officer stated that there was a drive to make EA almost self-sufficient. If you can’t charge for something, it gets a lower priority. This is why many of the officer roles have been eliminated.
In a SpeechBevan stated Tuesday that he wants industry to eventually bear the full costs of regulation.
Second officer stated that charges and other income from agencies filled the gap left behind by decreasing government grants, but that the money didn’t reach frontline work. They said that instead, the money was directed to middle managers.
They said that part of the reason permits are paid for is to make sure that illegal activity is stopped that doesn’t require one. However, frontline officers must see this money go somewhere else, usually to fill new management positions that have no impact upon their duties. Only operators who are looking to avoid meaningful regulation will be the ones who benefit. The Environment Agency seems to be choosing to divert current funding away form frontline water quality.
Other moves taken by the agency to hinder fieldwork include the creation of incident teams that don’t leave the office and the eviction of lease cars that can be used to attend incidents.
The agency can issue permits for potentially polluting activities, such as dumping effluent into a river. However, one officer stated that they were told by the permitting process to give the business the benefit of doubt rather than the environment when making a decision about the activity.
If you cannot find a solid reason to deny something, you will grant it. We don’t get to use the precautionary principle, which is the basis of many of these decisions.
According to insiders, the inconsistency of data at the agency makes it difficult to make permits decisions. It all comes down to the fact that our MonitoringOne officer stated that the situation is much worse now. It is much more difficult to prove the impact of something when you are trying to make a decision about it. Unless it’s absolutely clearcut, priority goes to the applicant and not the environment.
One officer said that the agency’s funding decisions and operational decisions have made it a toothless regulator. If a polluter is caught, all tools that were at their disposal will be destroyed. [its]Disposal to take action has been systematically eliminated Officers are actively encouraged to not take enforcement action and asked to find a solution. We are no longer a threat to polluters.
Staff are angry that those who follow the legislation pay large sums, while those who ignore it escape any charges or meaningful punishment.
Another officer said that the reduction in enforcement activity would encourage people breaking the law because they know that not a strong police presence is there to watch them and take any significant action against the them.
The general feeling is that water quality is no longer a priority and that the environment in most cases can be ignored. There seems to be a direction that aims to work alongside water companies, industry, agriculture, and regulate them.
The Environment Agency seems to be as far from the polluter pays principle now as ever. What is more concerning is that it appears to be deliberately doing this.
According to officers, staff morale has been affected by being unable to go out into the field to perform the jobs they were hired for. One officer stated that morale is so low because of our poor performance in water quality enforcement. This upsets people when they see their passion being ignored and red-carded.
Another commentator said that most staff joined the Environment Agency as a result of a vocation to protect the environment. However, their morale has plummeted because they are being asked for no justification for this vocation.
Another officer stated that there are many passionate and well-meaning people in your agency, but they are often prevented from doing their jobs fully. They are passionate about making a difference and joined the agency to do so because they care. [but then]Their ambitions are often thwarted and gradually diluted by an organization that only grinds them down and offers very few opportunities for them to make a difference.
A spokesperson for Environment Agency said that the agency’s staff is vital in protecting the environment, people, and wildlife from harm. They are committed to providing a healthy, high-quality work environment.
The Environment Agency’s most recent employee survey reveals many positive aspects to working there. 68% of employees reported that they are engaged with the agency and that they feel supported in their safety, health, and well-being. We aren’t complacent, and we know that the past few years have been difficult for all public servants. We will continue to listen to our staff and take into consideration their feedback as a top priority.