December 6, 2023
Ministers have been accused of “misleading the public” after documents obtained by Ends Report and the Guardian revealed they ignored their officials’ advice when scrapping key air quality regulations, according to a report from the Guardian from Dec. 6, 2023.
On 31 December, two key air quality regulations will drop off the statute book under the Retained EU Law (REUL) Act.
The rules being revoked are regulations 9 and 10 of the National Emission Ceiling (NEC) regulations, which set legally binding emission reduction commitments for five key air pollutants.
Regulation 9 requires the secretary of state to prepare a national air pollution control programme (NAPCP) to limit pollutants in accordance with national emission reduction commitments. Regulation 10 requires that before preparing or significantly revising the NAPCP, the secretary of state must consult the public.
Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP, has asked ministers to “urgently take steps to prevent these regulations from being stripped from our statute book in just a few weeks’ time”, and has asked them to “explain why they felt this decision was in the interests of people and planet”.
Ruth Chambers, from the Greener UK coalition, has also urged the new minister for air quality, Robbie Moore, to “order an immediate rethink”.
The decision to scrap these regulations has also brought strong criticism from the government’s own environmental watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), which warned that revoking these regulations “weakens accountability and transparency and – in the absence of an alternative, comprehensive plan – it has the potential to weaken environmental protection”.
The government has dismissed these concerns repeatedly, stating that its intention in revoking the regulations was to “reduce administrative burden” and “remove duplication”.
In July 2023, the then environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, reassured the OEP that in revoking the regulations “there [will be] no reduction in the level of environmental protection”, and emphasised that the government “uses expert advice when making provisions that relate to the environment”.
However, it can be revealed that ministers knew this was not the case.
In advice given to ministers in March 2023, and obtained by Ends Report via an environmental information request, officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) advised the government to carry out a public consultation before reforming the regulations, and to put two options to the public:
. Revoke the NAPCP with no replacement, with the environment improvement plan (EIP) becoming the alternative process.
2. Revoke the NAPCP provisions and introduce a new process for assessing policy options, with a new process triggered by a failure or potential failure to achieve a target.
The officials advised that any changes to the regulations should take place in 2024, to allow “sufficient time” for a public consultation.
Coffey ignored the advice to consult and chose option one.
The two options came with a list of pros and cons. For option one, the officials pointed out that by revoking the regulations with no replacement, there would “no longer be a legal requirement to publish a UK wide document on emission policies under consideration by all UK administrations”, which they warned would make “tracking or setting our progress towards UK wide emission targets difficult”. They added there would no longer be clear action after a failure to achieve an emission reduction target.