Environmentalists angry over government plans to ‘cut red tape’ on rules over air, land and noise pollution and wildlife protection
Scores of environmental regulations are to be slashed under government plans to be announced on Monday, the Guardian has learned.
The rules affected include controls on asbestos, invasive species and industrial air pollution; protection for wildlife and common lands; as well as restrictions on noise nuisance and deadly animal traps.
Ministers are expected to say the cutting of red tape will save businesses £1bn, but the move has shocked campaigners, who argue that the government’s search for economic growth is mistakenly targeting the environment.
The impending announcement follows intense pressure from David Cameron and George Osborne to remove what the chancellor has called the “ridiculous costs” of “endless social and environmental goals”.
The document obtained by the Guardian lists 174 regulations that will be scrapped, merged, liberalised or simplified. Neither the environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, nor any other environment minister was present at the “star chamber” conducted by Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin, who leads the government’s red tape challenge (RTC). A Guardian analysis shows that 97% of the thousands of public responses on the RTC website demanded stronger protection or no change in the rules on air pollution, wildlife and landscape management.
“The brazenness with which the government has, via its insidious red tape challenge, sought to undermine the very principles of environmental protection is shocking enough,” said Green party MP Caroline Lucas. “But it’s also astonishing that ministers have been so willing to waste taxpayers’ money on such an ideologically driven vanity project.”
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The red tape challenge has given everyone, including environmental groups and businesses, an opportunity to tell us how we can protect the environment in a more effective and efficient way that puts fewer burdens on businesses. Regulation has an important role to play in protecting the environment and our natural resources, but some of the rules we ask businesses to follow are either too complicated, ineffective or just obsolete.”
Craig Bennett, policy director at Friends of the Earth, said: “There is no hard evidence that this will save business £1bn, but it could cause havoc to the environment. Most of these regulations are recent, from the last 10 years, so what can have changed in that time?”
The EU habitats directive, which protects the UK’s rarest and most threatened wildlife, was a specific target of Osborne and will be “liberalised”, according to the document.
But Spelman, who a year ago performed a humiliating U-turn on the sale of public forests, has revealed that a mere 0.5% of projects affected by the habitats directive have had problems. Furthermore, those problems – affecting the building of offshore windfarms – are being resolved not by cutting regulation but by negotiation.
Next week is also expected to see the government climb down on the most controversial aspects of its slashing of planning regulations from 1,000 to 52 pages, such as reinstating the requirement to build on brownfield sites first.
Letwin invoked the planning changes at the star chamber he chaired on 12 January, when he told environmental officials he wanted the thousands of pages of regulation and guidance cut down to 50 pages, as it had “worked very well” on planning regulations. However, the cuts expected on Monday, some of which will be subject to consultation, fall short of Letwin’s goal.
Rules such as preventing environmental pollution by asbestos will be scrapped because they are “totally redundant”, while rules limiting industrial air pollution with smoke, grit and dust will be “reviewed along with the clean air act”. Twenty regulations related to the wildlife and countryside act are listed.
Many of the regulations in the document are labelled “deregulation with impact”, which appears to mean their scrapping will cause costs to businesses. Following are some of the key regulations facing proposed changes:
• Regulation covering persistent organic pollutants, which the document states are “a threat to human health and the environment”, will be reduced.
• Regulations ensuring the “reasonable” cleaning up of contaminated land will be reduced, because they “create a burden for the housing industry“.
• Rules banning works on common land will be liberalised, or their implementation improved.
• Rules requiring local authorities to investigate and abate noise, dust and odour nuisances will be liberalised or improved.
• The need for waste management plans for construction sites will be scrapped.
• Regulations requiring manufacturers of electrical goods and batteries to take financial responsibility for their safe disposal will be liberalised or improved.
• Recycling targets for larger UK businesses will be liberalised or improved.
Mary Creagh, the shadow environment secretary, said: “This latest attack on so-called environmental red tape shows how out of touch the government is with everyone who cares about the countryside. We need leadership to create green jobs, not desperate measures from a panicking government which has no idea how to create jobs and growth.”
A source close to the process told the Guardian: “The external costs of this deregulation falls on taxpayers, as damage and depletion will need paying for even if businesses won’t pay. It also falls on to communities, usually the poorest, on to other businesses, and on to future generations. It is a true race to the bottom.”
President pushes energy-efficient auto agenda in North Carolina truck factory – his third speech on cars in three weeks
Another week, another car talk. Barack Obama stopped by a North Carolina truck factory on Wednesday to announce $1bn in tax credits and grants for alternative-energy cars and trucks. It was Obama’s third speech on cars and fuel in an election battleground state in three weeks.
The president has travelled from New Hampshire to Florida and now North Carolina to insulate himself from Republican attacks on rising gas prices and the on-again, off-again Keystone XL tar sand pipeline ahead of the general election.
“We can’t just keep on relying on the old ways of doing business. We can’t just rely on fossil fuels from the last century. We’ve got to continually develop new sources of energy,” Obama said in his speech at the Daimler truck plant in Mount Holly North Carolina.
The White House, briefing reporters on the plane and through a factsheet emailed out before the event, said Obama’s factory tour was intended to spur the development of a new generation of clean, fuel-neutral cars: electric, natural gas, and alternative fuels.
The Daimler plant is working to produce 18-wheeler trucks that use only half as much gas as current models. Long-haul trucks make up just 4% of all vehicles on the roads, according to the White House, but suck up 20% of all transport fuel in the country.
The factory also makes hydrogen-powered trucks.
The tax credits – which must be voted on by Congress – would help up to 15 cities and towns to pay for charging stations for electric cars and biofuel pumps for alternative fuel vehicles to encourage people to switch to electric cars.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much natural gas, or flex-fuel or electric vehicles you have if there’s no place to charge them up or fill them up,” Obama said.
The speech came just a few days after GM announced a five-week hiatus in the production of its Chevy Volt because of flagging demand.
Obama is also asking Congress to expand the tax credit for advanced vehicles to $10,000 from $7,500, and to all fuels – including natural gas, which is not covered under the programme.
It’s unclear whether either programme will see the light of day, given Republicans’ dominance in Congress and their opposition to Obama’s clean energy agenda.
The Republicans claim clean energy loans and grants are a waste of money – and have used the failure of the Solyndra solar power maker to try to discredit Obama’s energy agenda.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, told reporters Obama was bent on forcing up gas prices.
“When it comes to the rising cost of gas at the pump, it’s my view that the administration’s policies are actually designed to bring about higher gas prices,” he said.
But the White House – with its steady schedule of energy-focused events – is clearly positioning itself to tout its energy agenda at the election.
Obama also used his speech in North Carolina to repeat his call for the repeal of billions in subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.
Subsidies were the main topic of his speech in the swing state of New Hampshire last week.
The week before, Obama took on Republicans’ attacks on gas prices in a speech in Miami. In late January, he visited the University of Michigan to talk up his electric vehicles programmes.
All three are seen as battleground states in the November elections – but North Carolina is probably the biggest stretch for Obama.
He was the first Democrat to win the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976. The Democrats are fighting hard to hang on, locating the party’s convention in Charlotte, North Carolina this summer.
Vestas Wind Systems chairman and his deputy unveil departure plans just 24 hours after chief financial officer announces exit
A massive sweep-out of senior executives at Vestas, the world’s biggest maker of wind turbines, was under way on Wednesday, with the chairman and his deputy saying they would not stand for re-election at the forthcoming annual general meeting.
The departures of Bent Erik Carlsen and Torsten Erik Rasmussen follow the exit 24 hours earlier of the chief financial officer and deputy chief executive, Henrik Nørremark, which leaves the chief executive, Ditlev Engel, as one of the few board members still standing.
The Danish company, which has a research and development base on the Isle of Wight and plans to build a factory at Sheerness in Kent, has record order levels of 9,550MW of turbine capacity, worth almost €10bn (£8.33bn). But it has also just suffered a larger-than-expected net loss in 2011 and warns it may not be profitable in 2012.
Vestas has been hit by low-cost competition from China and uncertainty over European subsidy levels but has also continually failed to meet its internal targets with cost overruns and operational failures.
Hundreds of jobs have been cut and some factories closed and there have been calls for Engel to resign.
The closure of a production plant on the Isle of Wight in 2009 was badly handled, leading to an occupation by British workers and a stream of political criticism.