The Government has published a partial draft for the 2019 Environment Bill outlining the of the UK’s new post-Brexit watchdog for green standards. The regulator will replace the power currently held by the European Commission to hold governments account for not fulfilling their commitments.

The document confirms that the watchdog will be called the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) and will work alongside the Environment Agency and Natural England to uphold existing standards once Brexit is complete. The OEP will have the power to take businesses, public bodies and the Government to court over any breaches of environmental law but unfortunately will not be able to issue fines, call senior representatives to attend Government hearings or place non-compliant organisations into a ‘special measures’ scenario. The OEP will also scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints and take action where necessary to make sure environmental law is properly implemented. To ensure the OEP supports the Government in meeting the goals outlined in its 25-year Environment Plan, the body will be required to produce an annual progress report.

Around 80% of the UK’s environmental laws have been forged in partnership with other nations in Europe. If the UK Government contravenes environmental laws while in the EU, it will be taken to court by the European Commission. Whilst the bill is being viewed as a step in the right direction, there is still some way to go to give confidence that the new regulator will be effective, particularly given that many of the powers that had been campaigned for are not likely to materialise.

Also in the draft bill, Defra has confirmed that several EU principles, including the “polluter pays” principle, will be preserved in UK law after Brexit. It also includes a proposal for policies requiring the Government to always have a plan for improving the environment in place. If this proposal is approved, Defra will be legally required to report annually on progress and update its policy every five years. While the draft partial bill does not include any information on climate change, Defra has confirmed that the full document will include measures to help limit the global temperature increase.

The full draft bill is set to be published early in 2019 and will include further information about air quality, soil quality, land use and chemical regulations.

The Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, has hailed the OEP as “world-leading” and has reiterated the government’s aim to be the first generation to leave the environment in an improved state. This is an important step towards enhancing environmental standards and delivering a Green Brexit considering that the government has committed little to the agenda in recent times.

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