Those that pollute the environment will face unlimited penalties under new legislation announced by the government.

The current limit of £250,000 on variable monetary penalties that the Environment Agency and Natural England can impose directly on operators will be lifted, following a government consultation which received widespread public support.

This will offer regulators a quicker method of enforcement than lengthy and costly criminal prosecutions – although the most serious cases will continue to be taken through criminal proceedings.

New powers will also enable these higher penalties to be levied as a civil sanction for offences under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016, the regime under which the majority of Environment Agency investigations take place. This will ensure regulators have the right tools to drive compliance across a range of sectors, strengthening enforcement and holding all who hold environmental permits – from energy and water companies to waste operators and incinerators – to greater account.

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