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It has been alleged that UK officials provided false information to the public when they decided to eliminate air quality regulations.

Officials have accused ministers of deceiving the public after obtaining documents from Ends Report and the Guardian that showed they disregarded advice from their officials when eliminating important air quality regulations.

Two important air quality rules will expire on December 31st due to the Retained EU Law Act.

The regulations being repealed are numbers 9 and 10 of the National Emission Ceiling (NEC) regulations. These regulations establish mandatory targets for reducing emissions of five major air pollutants.

Regulation 9 mandates the secretary of state to create a national program for controlling air pollution (NAPCP) in order to meet national targets for reducing emissions. Regulation 10 states that the secretary of state must seek input from the public before creating or making significant changes to the NAPCP.

Caroline Lucas, a member of parliament from the Green party, has requested that government officials take immediate action to prevent the removal of these regulations from our laws in a matter of weeks. She also asked for an explanation as to why they believed this decision would benefit both people and the planet.

Ruth Chambers, a member of the Greener UK coalition, has called on the newly appointed minister for air quality, Robbie Moore, to “promptly reconsider” their approach.

The government’s decision to eliminate these rules has faced severe backlash from its own environmental oversight body, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). The OEP cautioned that repealing these regulations “undermines responsibility and openness and, without a substitute, comprehensive strategy, it could diminish environmental safeguarding.”

The government has consistently disregarded these worries, explaining that its objective in repealing the rules was to “lessen administrative workload” and “eliminate repetition”.

In July of 2023, the environment secretary at the time, Thérèse Coffey, provided reassurance to the OEP that revoking regulations would not result in a decrease in environmental protection. She also highlighted the government’s reliance on expert advice when making decisions related to the environment.

However, it has been disclosed that the ministers were aware that this was not true.

In March 2023, recommendations were given to government officials regarding regulations by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). These recommendations were obtained by Ends Report through an environmental information request. The advice suggested that a public consultation be conducted before any changes to the regulations are made, and that two options should be presented to the public.

  1. . Revoke the NAPCP with no replacement, with the environment improvement plan (EIP) becoming the alternative process.

    2. Cancel the NAPCP rules and implement a fresh procedure for evaluating policy choices, triggered by a failure or potential failure to meet a goal.

The authorities recommended that any modifications to the rules be implemented in 2024 to allow ample opportunity for a public consultation.

Coffey disregarded the recommendation to seek advice and selected option one.

The officials presented a list of advantages and disadvantages for both options. Option one would involve revoking the regulations without providing a replacement. This would mean that there would no longer be a legal obligation to publish a UK-wide document outlining emission policies being considered by all UK administrations. The officials cautioned that this could make it challenging to monitor or establish progress towards UK-wide emission targets. They also noted that there would no longer be a clear course of action if a reduction target is not met.

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According to Emily Kearsey, an environmental lawyer at ClientEarth, the recent removal of certain regulations is more proof of a decline in environmental law and also confirms that the government was aware of this.

She stated that while they may not have been explicitly informed about the regression, the civil servants’ mention of the consequences that would result from removing these regulations makes it difficult to reach any other interpretation.

The officials cautioned in the document that the EIP should not be seen as a sufficient substitute for the NAPCP. They emphasized that the EIP only occurs every five years, resulting in a potential delay of four years between the surpassing of legal air quality limits and the implementation of new policies and measures by the government.

Kearsey stated that the government has been deceiving the public by claiming that revoking these regulations is in their favor. This document presents the larger scope of this misleading action.

Lucas stated that despite the claims of seeking expert advice, it is evident that ministers did not consult external experts and disregarded the guidance of their own officials when choosing to eliminate air quality regulations through the REUL Act.

Advocates are worried that the government’s strategy may lead to inadequate transparency and accountability. The current pollution levels in our air are a major public health crisis and contribute to an estimated 40,000 deaths annually in the UK. It is imperative that the government takes this matter seriously by upholding current regulations and setting stronger targets to prevent future generations from living in a polluted environment.

A representative from Defra stated that the goals for reducing emissions outlined in the NEC regulations have not been altered. Therefore, there has been no decrease in the level of protection for the environment. The government remains dedicated to meeting these targets and will continue to report on our progress to ensure transparency.

During our discussion on the NAPCP, in accordance with NEC regulations, several interested parties expressed that the layout could use some improvement. To address this, we are exploring ways to streamline the process in order to lessen administrative demands and enhance transparency.

Source: theguardian.com