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How road transport operators can be affected by environmental enforcement action

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The road transport sector has become increasingly involved in waste management, whether it be as carriers of waste materials and/or as those engaged in recycling and disposal operations. However, there have been a number of changes to environmental legislation over the years which has meant that waste management operations must be properly permitted and compliant with such permitting.

The road transport sector’s increased involvement in waste management puts operators at risk of enforcement action by the Environment Agency (‘EA’), and other environmental regulators, in the event of non-compliance. The EA enforces the legislation in a variety of ways, ranging from civil penalties which it administers directly, to prosecution where the criminal courts decide the appropriate penalty.

The sentencing powers for courts dealing with environmental cases have increased over recent years, and most offences now carry significant fines and the potential for imprisonment of directors. The EA can also apply for ancillary orders following a conviction. The court imposes these and they can include a directors’ disqualification order, whereby the offender can be prohibited from acting as a company director and the confiscation of assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, where assets equal to the financial benefit gained from the criminal environmental activity are confiscated. These penalties can have devastating consequences for a company.

Local and even national adverse publicity can also be a consequence of a prosecution, whether you are convicted or not. The EA publish environmental convictions on their website and local press can observe criminal court proceedings. Other potential implications include increased business insurance premiums and potential difficulty selling the business in the future.

It is also important to note that if you are convicted of an environmental offence and are the holder of an environmental permit, the EA may review and reconsider your competence to hold that permit. The EA may give you time to prove your competence or suspend or revoke your permit. A conviction is also likely to have implications on any current or future permit applications.

The consequences of an environmental prosecution can therefore be catastrophic for a road transport business operating in the waste sector. It is vital that such operators ensure that their waste management is properly permitted and complies with such permitting, otherwise they risk significant penalties for non-compliance.

It is also important that as a road transport operator, you keep up-to-date with relevant environmental regulations to fully understand your obligations and to ensure that you operate lawfully. The assistance of an Environmental Consultant may be beneficial to help you achieve compliance. However, even the best run business can inadvertently breach environmental legislation and face the prospect of investigation or prosecution. This may be simply due to an accident which results in pollution to a local watercourse or due to a lack of knowledge of complex regulations.

If you or your business are facing an investigation or prosecution by the EA or another environmental regulator, you need to act quickly to limit both the financial and reputational impact. You need the support of a specialist lawyer to guide you through the process and protect the interests of you and your company. Our specialist regulatory lawyers can advise you on the appropriate defence strategy and provide effective representation at each stage of the proceedings.

If you require assistance with an environmental law matter, please feel free to contact our specialist lawyers on 0161 696 6250 to discuss how we can assist with your case.