Environmental Liability: 'Polluter Pays' Principle must be maintained
Brussels-Today, WWF, the conservation organization, strongly urges European Environmental Ministers, meeting for the last time under the Spanish Presidency, to learn from past environmental disasters such as the Erika oil spill in 1999 or the pollution of the Doñana basin in 1998 and to ensure that significant progress is made on the proposed Directive for the prevention or restoration of environmental damage. WWF welcomes the work of the Environment Council under the Spanish Presidency in addressing the serious shortcomings in the proposal for a Directive on environmental liability (COM (2002) 17) following its adoption by the Commission in January. However, WWF urges Denmark as forthcoming President of the European Council to build on this progress, to ensure that the proposal is significantly improved in order to create a robust and comprehensive regime, which effectively implements the ‘polluter pays’ principle, as well as ensuring greater compliance with existing environmental legislation.
In light of this, WWF looks to the Council to address the shortcomings in the Commission proposal. In particular for the regime to be effective in practice it must adhere to the ‘polluter pays’ principle by ensuring the following objectives are met:
Operators causing any environmental damage as a result of those activities listed under the draft Directive must not be allowed to escape liability under broad exceptions. The “compliance with permit” and the “state of the art” exceptions currently included in the proposed Directive must be completely removed, to ensure that the costs of remediation are borne by those causing environmental damage.
Liability must be imposed for damage caused to all species and habitats protected under international, EU and Member State law, covering both existing law, and any subsequent amendments, as well as relevant future legislation.
Financial security, in the form of insurance and/or dedicated funds, must be made compulsory under the Directive to ensure that the financial means to carry out environmental remediation are available. This requirement should include the creation of a dedicated fund to ensure that the remediation cost of ‘orphan sites’ (sites for which no owner can be found, or the owner is bankrupt) is not borne by public authorities alone.
Local people and environmental groups must be given the right to take direct legal action in the case of damage or the imminent threat of damage to the environment to enable them take steps to prevent, or at least limit, it. This legal action may take the form of an injunction or other legal tool. This power is vital, given that in the case of serious damage to the environment, it is the local people and environmental groups who are first on the scene, carrying out the clean up.
The draft Directive on environmental liability represents a unique opportunity to introduce a thorough regime for the prevention and restoration of damage to the environment throughout the EU. WWF urges the Council to respond to this challenge and work to improve the proposal to ensure that these aims can be fulfilled.
For further information please contact:
Sandra Jen, WWF European Policy Office, Tel.: ++32 2 743 8813 email: Sjen@wwfepo.org
Angelina Hermanns, WWF Press Officer, Tel + 32 2 740 0925, email: Ahermanns@wwfepo.org