England’s Environment Agency doesn’t have enough money to investigate low-impact pollution incidents. So it’s decided to ignore them.
The agency categorizes incidents from one to four, with one being “major, serious, persistent and/or extensive impact or effect on the environment, people and/or property.” Category 3 and 4 incidents, which cause minor, minimal or no impact, will no longer be investigated, according to leaked documents. But this doesn’t mean agency officials are happy about the strategy. The documents say the agency’s leadership has “made it clear to government that you get the environment you pay for,” according to The Guardian.
“We cannot keep trying to do what we are not funded to do; we do not have the money or resources,” the Environment Agency stated in a presentation. “We are in an unsustainable position. Our incident responders feel under growing pressure, and this is affecting staff resilience and wellbeing.”
The Guardian also reported on data discrepancies on the number of incidents investigated. The Environment Agency claimed to respond to more than 70,000 incidents each year. But the National Incident Recording System indicated that the agency attended to only 8,000 of 116,000 reported incidents.
The leaked guidance said that staff should ignore category 3 and 4 incidents unless they relate to a regulated site or a water company. But one official anonymously warned The Guardian that the initial categorization may change once agents investigate. “A lot of category 2 incidents start off as 3s until they are attended,” they said, giving the example that a category 3 could be a “2km spill of oil or sewage in a river.”
Members of river groups and NGOs are angry about the leaked document. “The obscenity is that the Environment Agency has reduced its own staff to nothing more than political pawns in a cheap game of Whitehall politics,” rivers campaigner Feargal Sharkey told The Guardian. “It’s unwarranted, it’s unjust, it’s incompetent.”
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