Thursday, 29 May 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
I am pleased to bring the Protection of the Environment Bill 2003 before this House following its passage through Seanad Éireann. Other than in a relatively small number of respects, I can reasonably say that the Bill was generally well received in the Seanad. I was struck by the constructive and helpful nature of the contributions of most Senators and I look forward to similar positive engagement in this House. Before turning to the contents of the Bill, I would like to make a few comments on which I think there will be unanimity across the floor of the House.
Care for our environment is a key responsibility. It is sufficiently important to deserve to transcend party political divisions. This is not just for the sake of environmental excellence – a vital and laudable end in itself – but care for our environment is also inextricably linked to the objective of sustainable development. I refer to the idea that we need to achieve the right balance between economic, social and environmental issues so that we can take a comprehensive approach to human welfare and we can work for a better quality of life in all its dimensions. The protection and enhancement of our environment deserves everyone's best attention and commitment for these reasons. We wish to see the most modern and responsive licensing systems put into place, building on the frameworks laid down in the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 and the Waste Management Act 1996. We wish to ensure that the polluter pays – I am speaking literally in this regard. We wish to see people acting positively for our environment, right down to local level. Addressing these matters, with a focus on better environmental implementation and enforcement, is at the heart of this Bill.
I expect that there will not be unanimity in this House on all the Bill's provisions. This is to be welcomed in some ways as it shows that the Legislature is doing its job properly. I look forward to what I expect will be vigorous debate on aspects of this Bill, especially regarding some of its proposals on waste management. I listened attentively to contributions in the Seanad on waste management, many of which, though not all, were well-considered and measured. I left that House more convinced than ever that progress, as opposed to rhetoric, is essential. We must intensify our provision of the high quality environmental infrastructure the country obviously needs. I refer, in particular, to waste infrastructure. Nobody should be under any illusions about the enormity of the waste management challenges we face. The broadly-based acceptance that we need to make significant progress in the waste management area is reflected in the new partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress, where the social partners have identified waste management as one of the key areas for special focus in the months and years ahead.
We tend to get into difficulty when it comes to turning the awareness of the need for progress into concrete action on the ground. We no longer have the luxury of dancing around the issues. We all know the mix of waste infrastructure required and the difficult decisions that are needed to deliver this simply have to be taken.
Let me refer to the link between care for our environment and the economy. Lack of environmental infrastructure holds a very real threat to our economic future. Potential inward investors need certainty about the environmental regime they will face if they are to commit to this country. They need to know how they can deal with the inevitable environmental challenges they will face. Lack of infrastructure is a key threat to investment, with wider implications for jobs, creation of wealth and the level of social services we can deliver. Ultimately, there are potential impacts on the very lives, and livelihoods, of every man, woman and child in Ireland. It is that serious.
As we embark on our consideration of the Bill, there is a choice to be made about how we deal with it. There is the constructive and responsible route or there is the option that is concerned with short-term political capital. I sincerely hope that we choose the former option. For my part, I will, as I have shown in the Seanad, be open to suggestions which will genuinely improve the provisions of the Bill. The primary aim of the Bill is to complete the transposition into Irish law of the 1996 EU directive on integrated pollution prevention and control, IPPC.
By way of background, integrated pollution control, IPC, licensing under the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 and waste licensing under the Waste Management Act 1996 have been administered by the EPA since 1994 and 1997, respectively. In general, the licensing provisions of both Acts anticipated the provisions of the IPPC directive and have delivered substantial compliance with it.
After nearly ten years of IPC licensing, 550 licences have been granted and are in force across 13 economic sectors with the potential, unless properly regulated, to cause significant pollution. The licensing system is generally acknowledged to have secured substantial improvement in the environmental performance of the industrial and other activities concerned, for example, reduced emissions to air and water; energy savings; moves to more environment-friendly processes; and lower noise emissions. In the EU context, Ireland was one of the first member states to implement integrated, as opposed to single medium, licensing. This was done in advance of the IPPC directive itself, and to this day we are recognised as among the leaders in this area. Building on the successor to date, the Bill brings national legislation fully into line with the directive by amending the licensing provisions of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 and the Waste Management Act 1996.
Turning to the amendment of the 1992 Act, a number of the key new provisions arise from the directive. Transposing the directive requires a move from integrated pollution control to integrated pollution prevention and control. This is the fundamental difference between IPC and IPPC. It is not just a new set of words or letters. On the contrary, it reflects the increasing emphasis we are placing on the prevention and minimisation of environmental problems at source rather than on controlling them after they have arisen.
The key changes to the operation of the licensing system are contained in chapter 2 of Part 2 of the Bill. This contains a single section, section 12, which replaces, in full, Part IV of the 1992 Act. The former sections 82 to 99 of the 1992 Act are being repealed and re-enacted with amendments in revised sections 82 to 99H – these 26 sections will constitute the core of the new IPPC code.
The new section 83(5) changes the technical basis of the licensing system from best available technology not entailing excessive costs, BATNEEC, to best available techniques, BAT. Under section 7 of the Bill, BAT is defined as in the directive. The concept of BAT seeks to secure an appropriate balance between necessary environmental protection requirements and what is economically and technically feasible. It represents a process of continuous improvement in environmental performance and, as such, builds on BATNEEC, which was the cornerstone of the licensing requirements in the original 1992 Act.
Section 83(5) also explicitly requires the efficient use of energy in the carrying on of licensable activities. This is common sense, both for industry in terms of working for the most cost efficient production practices and for the environment as we seek to reduce the adverse impacts of energy use. Section 86 relates to conditions to be attached by EPA to licences. Subsection (1)(a) makes it mandatory to include in licences conditions concerning key issues such as emission limit values; the minimisation of pollution; protection of soil and ground water; and what happens on the ceasing of the activity. While many of these issues are already addressed by the EPA in IPC licences, the Bill copperfastens this practice and, reflecting the terms of the directive, requires the inclusion of such conditions in licences.
Deputies will wish to note that the inclusion of greenhouse gases in the definition of “emission” in section 5 will, in conjunction with subsection (1)(b) of section 86, enable the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in licence conditions. This is a useful additional measure to assist in meeting Ireland's obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. The start-up of emissions trading from 2005 will influence the longer-term use of this provision.
Section 15 and Schedule 1 to the Bill extend the scope of licensing in light of the directive. While the 1992 Act sought to anticipate the details of the activities to be covered by the licensing regime, the directive as adopted contained some differences. The general approach I have taken in the Bill is to include the activities and thresholds specified in the directive or those already included in the 1992 Act, whichever yields the more demanding standard. I am determined – I am sure the House will agree – that we should retain what is best from the controls the Oireachtas put in place ten years ago, which have secured major benefits for the environment, and build on to them further improvements arising from the directive. Areas where the directive brings more activities into the licensing regime include poultry rearing, the treatment and processing of milk, the slaughtering of cattle, the production of food from animal or vegetable raw materials and the production of paper or board.
There are a number of transitional provisions in the Bill. The new section 82 of the 1992 Act, as inserted by section 12 of the Bill, proposes the following in relation to activities newly licensable by virtue of the directive: new activities will be licensable from the date that the section is commenced; activities which started in the period from 30 October 1999 to the commencement of the section will require to be licensed within six months of commencement or have a licence application submitted within that period – that date in 1999 is the operative one for the purposes of the directive; and activities which were already in operation on 29 October 1999 will be licensable in the period up to 2007, as provided for in the directive. Licences in force under the 1992 Act will remain in force and will be examined by the EPA for compliance with the directive. The agency will take appropriate action to ensure full compliance, again by 2007. This action can include the carrying out of a review of the licence, amending its conditions or declaring in writing that no further action is required.
In addition to requirements arising from the IPPC directive, the second main focus of the Bill is to modernise the integrated licensing regime in light of nearly a decade of experience with it. In particular, amendments are proposed which facilitate better implementation and enforcement.
Section 10 updates the level of penalties available to the courts. The maximum fine on summary conviction is increased from just under €1,300 to €3,000. I was urged to further increase this in the Seanad but the advice available to me from the Attorney General's office was that €3,000 is the highest level to which it can safely go. However, I accepted amendments in the Seanad to increase the daily fine for a continuing offence on summary conviction to €1,000 and the maximum fine for conviction on indictment to €15 million.
The new section 83(5) introduces a requirement on an applicant for an IPPC licence to be a “fit and proper person”. This includes being free of a conviction in relation to non-compliance with the IPPC and waste codes, and having the necessary skills and financial resources to carry on the activity in relation to which a licence is sought. I draw the attention of the House to the new sections 94 and 95, which introduce detailed controls in relation to the transfer and surrender of licences.
In a further provision, the new section 97 allows the EPA to revoke or suspend IPPC licences where the “fit and proper person” requirements are no longer met and this occurs in such serious circumstances as to warrant this action. Section 99H enables any person to take Circuit Court or High Court proceedings where an activity is being carried on in contravention of the Act. The inclusion of the Circuit Court in the section emerged from the debate on the Bill in the Seanad. In cases under the section, the courts can make such orders as they consider appropriate.
Turning to the waste elements in Part 3 of the Bill, I am proposing, in addition to requirements arising from the IPPC directive, a number of other important amendments to the Waste Management Acts. Despite the obligation under the 1996 Act to make waste management plans, it was not until the Waste Management (Amendment) Act 2001 was enacted, that proposed regional waste management plans were finally adopted. It provided that making such plans would be an executive function and that the variation and replacement of plans would remain a reserved function, subject to the consent of the relevant city or county manager over an interim period of four years.
Mr. Cullen: The focus of local authority efforts since 2001 should have been to ensure the rapid and efficient delivery of the improved services and infrastructure provided for in the plans. To be fair to most authorities, good progress is being made but it appears that some councils are already seeking to review and amend plans, essentially to un-pick their provisions for an integrated waste management infrastructure.
While I accept that plans need to be kept up to date, I remain strongly of the view that there is no merit in revisiting the foundations on which the plans are based. They have already been fully debated and decided upon. In order to safeguard and build on the progress to date, I propose to provide that the review, variation and replacement of a waste management plan shall also be an executive function for local authority management and, accordingly, section 19 provides for that. There will continue to be full public consultation with regard to any such variation or replacement of plans.
Last year, the issue of local authority waste charges again became contentious during the local authority estimates process. Seeking short-term political advantage some Opposition parties purported to oppose household waste charges, citing various but spurious justifications. The position is very simple, irrespective of who stands where I do today. “The polluter pays” principle underpins EU environmental policy and legislation and must be applied by member states. Specifically, EU waste legislation requires that households – and I want to re-emphasise this – as well as other waste producers, pay for the costs of disposing of their waste. Therefore, household waste charges are mandatory and are here to stay, irrespective of who stands on this side of the House. If I appear to be blunt, it is for the simple reason that these are the facts. If we fail to respect fully “the polluter pays” principle, we will find ourselves before the European Court of Justice, as we have done on so many occasions. In that forum, a defence based on political expediency would not get us very far. Every Member of this House, and of the Upper House, knows this full well.
Mr. Morgan: The Minister should stop trying to make me laugh. He is saying that household waste charges are here to stay only because, as we all know, his is an extremely right-wing Government. That is the only reason.
Mr. Cullen: Coming from Deputy Morgan that does not surprise me. He picks and chooses what suits him in terms of the law but I am telling him what the law of the land is. If he wants to tell people to break the law that is a matter for him but I certainly will not do it.
Mr. Cullen: To put our adherence to “the polluter pays” principle beyond doubt, I propose, in section 35, to insert a new section 75 in the 1996 Act, giving local authorities explicit powers to charge for waste services they provide. This section provides that the making and waiver of such charges shall be an executive function and is intended to facilitate the levying of charges on a “per use” basis.
In section 22 local authorities are being given explicit power to discontinue the collection of domestic waste in the event of non-payment of charges. This addresses the consequences of a 2001 Supreme Court judgment, which found that local authorities currently do not have this right. As a result, local authorities could only seek recovery of unpaid household charges as a normal contract debt through the appropriate courts – a system that is costly, unwieldy and unnecessary. I now propose to allow local authorities to respond in the most direct manner to those who will not pay for services provided.
Further amendments are proposed to strengthen the 1996 Act in light of experience and to facilitate more effective enforcement and legal action to combat unauthorised waste activity. The main proposals in this regard are in section 21, to introduce a reversal of the burden of proof so that, for the purposes of prosecutions there will be a presumption that the carrying on of an unauthorised waste activity will cause environmental pollution, unless the contrary can be shown. Everyone in the House would welcome that; in section 29, to provide a new power to the EPA to revoke or suspend a waste licence, especially where a licensee can no longer be regarded as a “fit and proper person” to hold that licence; in sections 31 and 32, to extend to the EPA current local authority powers, enabling steps to be taken for the purpose of preventing or remedying environmental pollution; and in section 33, to provide explicitly for court orders where a waste activity is carried on other than under and in accordance with any requisite authorisation.
A number of other amendments are proposed including provision in section 25 to empower the EPA to determine that, where a waste activity is carried on in a facility associated with an IPPC licensable activity, a licence under either the 1992 or 1996 Acts, but not both, shall be required, and in section 26, to introduce amended requirements regarding the extent to which the EPA shall have regard to environmental impact statements.
The strengthened provisions in waste and IPPC law contained in this Bill, underpin my determination to secure appropriate and timely responses to polluting activity. Alongside the Bill, we will put in place an intensified enforcement drive, through the planned office of environmental enforcement, and the Bill will support a number of objectives in that regard.
The final, substantive part of the Bill, Part 4, gives effect to commitments in the Government's litter action plan to strengthen the law against litter. Section 38 requires that articles or advertisements exhibited in public places include the name and address of the person on whose behalf they are being exhibited. It also prohibits advertising by means of placing items on vehicles. These changes are being introduced more effectively to tackle illegal posters and flyers as particular sources of litter.
Section 39 allows local authorities to make general anti-litter by-laws for their areas. At present, under litter legislation, local authorities can only make by-laws to prohibit or regulate the distribution of advertising material to the public. That is a significant and important empowerment for local authorities.
Section 40 increases the fines, and introduces conviction on indictment, for litter offences. In relation to summary convictions, the current fine will be increased from €1,900 to a maximum of €3,000. The section also provides for the introduction of conviction on indictment for litter offences, with a maximum fine of €130,000 and a corresponding maximum fine of €10,000 per day for continuing offences.
These are the main provisions of the Bill as it currently stands. I would like also at this stage to signal some amendments that I intend to bring forward for consideration on Committee Stage. First, I will propose a significant strengthening of the powers that the Environmental Protection Agency currently has under section 63 of the 1992 Act in relation to its role in ensuring that local authorities can, and do, exercise their environmental responsibilities. The amendments I will propose will serve to further deliver on the commitments in An Agreed Programme for Government to drive forward environmental enforcement and compliance.
Second, I will make provision for the introduction of a producer responsibility initiative relating to end of life vehicles. This will not only meet our obligations under European law in this regard and allow us to give effect to the initiative agreed with SIMI and the other parties concerned, but it will ensure that we maximise recycling and reuse of the enormous resources that are tied up in scrapped cars. There is also a positive social dimension to getting all of these cars scrapped and recycled.
Third, planning authorities already have the power to require developers to provide for waste infrastructure associated with housing or commercial developments. Some developers, however, are not addressing this issue in an effective way in their development proposals. Accordingly, I intend to include an amendment in the Bill which will make it mandatory to take account of the need for appropriate facilities for the handling of waste and recyclable waste in housing and commercial developments in future.
Fourth, I will introduce a range of amendments of a more technical nature, including penalty provisions for businesses that fail to make timely payments to the Revenue Commissioners in respect of the hugely successful plastic bag levy, and further refinements to the IPPC and waste licensing systems.
I look forward to engaging in more detail on these issues, and on the Bill generally, on Committee Stage. The Bill brings our national legislation fully into line with one of the more important EU instruments for environmental policy – the IPPC directive. It also proposes to make significant progress in a range of critical areas across the environmental agenda.
The Protection of the Environment Bill modernises the law governing EPA licensing generally, provides an enhanced focus for the EPA to secure energy efficiency from licensable activities, and enables the agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. It gives important new powers in the implementation and enforcement of legislation on the environment, and it makes significant changes to the legislative codes relating to litter and, particularly, waste management.
Mr. Allen: I welcome some parts of this long overdue Bill on which I note the Minister's request to have a balanced and reasonable debate. However, he proceeded to preach to us in a sermon-like way. He inferred the Opposition would be making political capital when he spoke about political expediency. That is a bit rich coming from the Minister and his party because I have in my possession a document indicating that when Cork City Council attempted to embark on a waste recovery and waste separation plan, the Minister for Health and Children, on the day we were making a decision, asked the Fianna Fáil councillors to dump the proposal for a material recovery facility. As a result the proposal, which was a vital cog in the waste management plan of Cork City Council, collapsed. Therefore, it is a bit rich for the Minister and his party to try to lecture us on being politically responsible. When the previous Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, was proposing one plan, the Minister for Health and Children, in order to gain a few hundred votes in a particular area prior to the general election of 2002, proposed dumping the site plan. I had not planned to raise that issue but, since the Minister got involved in cross-political exchanges, I felt he should be answered.
While Ireland has a reasonably good environment outside of the major growth areas, we must not be complacent. One of the biggest challenges facing this country is the question of waste management. It is against that background the Bill is being introduced to Dáil Éireann. While it is a Protection of the Environment Bill, under that title the Minister is giving powers to managers to impose charges for waste collection and taking this responsibility out of the hands of public representatives. Not only will the legislation empower managers to impose increased waste charges unilaterally, the principle will be to charge householders for their waste by weight. The Minister was quite clear about this in his recent statement in committee. He confirmed that the weight charge would be between €600 and €700 minimum per year.
Mr. Allen: It would be between €600 and €700 which is the current charge in some areas. The Minister is effectively removing the powers from the democratically elected local representatives and transferring it to managers who do not have to answer to the public. This year some local authorities were forced to increase their charges by more than 30% because of a serious shortfall in Government funding. The Minister is now bypassing the councillors and giving to managers new powers to slap charges on the public in order to compensate for the serious shortfall in Government funding.
Since taking office, the Minister, and indeed his predecessor, have spoken time after time about local government reform and strengthening local democracy in the lead-up to the 2004 local elections. The proposals contained in the Bill contradict in a fundamental way his stated goals. The proposals in this Bill and the lack of real local government reform in what is referred to as the dual mandate Bill 2003 – some call it the Michael Ring Bill – make a mockery of local democracy and represent a betrayal of the local authorities by making local councillors semi-redundant. The councillors themselves know it and members of the public know it, therefore, the local elections in 2004 are about electing people to bodies whose powers are being stripped because they are being transferred to bureaucrats and to central Government.
The most recent example was a decision made last Monday in Cork County Hall when the elected representatives of the people decided not to rezone land for an incinerator. However, they will now possibly find themselves overruled by An Bord Pleanála, which does not have to explain to anyone the rationale behind its decision.
Mr. Allen: It might explain its decisions to the Minister but I have yet to get a real explanation from An Bord Pleanála on the rationale behind its decisions. I have seen many decisions that confounded logic. The noose is slowly but surely tightening around local democracy. Instead of strengthening it, the Minister is choking it to death. He is availing of the protection of the Protection of the Environment Bill to introduce, through his agents locally – the managers – new taxes and new penalties on the people of this country. The reality on the ground is that the public will be paying more for fewer services.
The main purpose of the Bill is to transpose the European Union Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive into Irish law. It proposes also to make amendments to the EPA Act 1992 and the Waste Management Act 1996. The Minister set out in his speech some of the issues involved, therefore I will not repeat them. The Bill also proposes additional amendments to the current IPC licensing regime and provides a statutory basis for incorporating improved ground water protection into that regime. These provisions have been outlined by the Minister.
The Bill is being introduced against a background of illegal dumping of commercial waste which is running at up to one million tonnes annually. Someone said to me recently that it is a case of “see no evil, hear no evil”, but the dumping goes on. The problem of Ireland's waste will not be dealt with effectively until the Government appoints an overall body to manage the waste question. There is no overall strategy and, in the absence of a strategy, the resultant uncertainty increases the cost of capital, so that Ireland will end up with a more expensive infrastructure. The lack of clear rules increases the risk to companies which wish to get involved in local management because it demands higher returns to justify the capital investment in the sector. There is currently a high level of confusion. There must be leadership at national level because local authorities are currently competing with the private sector for waste contracts. One can see the evidence of national leadership at present when the Minister for the Environment and Local Government proposes one thing and the Minister for Health and Children is saying “dump it lads” for votes.
EU directives state that waste should be dealt with close to its source of origin and this directive is not being complied with in many cases. The roles of the local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency must be clearly spelled out if we wish to have coherence in the waste management sector. The role of local authorities and the health research board, together with An Bord Pleanála, must also be clearly spelled out. As I said already, we had a situation in Cork this week where a decision was made by local county councillors not to contravene the county development plan, but An Bord Pleanála can simply tell them they are wrong. This surely undermines the whole concept of local democracy.
Against this confused background, illegal dumping of commercial waste is running at up to one million tonnes annually. The illegal dumping scandal is going on unabated, with waste being transferred illegally to Northern Ireland and shipped out of Ireland illegally. An industry source states that illegal disposal of waste is running at between 500,000 to one million tonnes per year. Household and commercial waste in Ireland has increased by more than 60% in five years, with a volume equivalent to 600 kilograms per annum for every person in the State. That statistic is not a figure I made up, it is in the Environmental Protection Agency report, published in late 2002. It is a key indicator of Ireland's performance in relation to environmental protection and an indication of the challenge facing Ireland to deal with one of the key environmental issues.
On top of that, under our commitment to the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is an international agreement, Ireland will also have to make significant reductions in its greenhouse gas emissions this decade.
Groundwater supplies in many areas of the country show an unacceptably high level of bacteriological contamination and in some areas are polluted or at risk from agricultural nitrates. Despite what I have said, I believe that Ireland's environment is still generally of a high standard, but it is now under considerable pressure because of economic growth in the last decade. The greatest challenge facing this country is therefore to maintain economic growth and protect our environment at the same time, and that is the issue that we are discussing.
In only one area have we seen any progress, namely, the reduction in sulphur dioxide emissions. That was due mainly to industry switching to sulphur-free and low-sulphur fuels. In the energy sector, the rate of increase in demand has been less than the rate of economic growth. Greenhouse gas emissions from power plants have not risen as fast as expected because of the increased use of more efficient natural gas rather than oil for electricity generation, but the good news ends there. By the end of 2000, Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions were already 24% higher than in 1990, and, along with dealing with waste, bringing them down to 13% by 2010 is probably the most serious environmental challenge that we now face.
The pressure on Ireland's environment is increasing faster than in other European countries owing to our rapid economic growth since 1995. Ireland needs a modern waste management infrastructure as well as an integrated, efficient public transport system to address the crisis in those sectors. The five main challenges facing Ireland are: to reduce pollution of inland waters; to protect the urban environment; to control greenhouse gas emissions; to protect our natural resources; and to manage the waste that we produce.
The best way to deal with waste is, of course, not to produce it in the first place. Only strategic thinkers seem to realise that. Unfortunately, the Minister has not spotted that important strategic issue and therefore has not made it his priority. The Bill does not say much about fundamentally improving our deteriorating treatment of the environment. Provisions for alternative energy sources, recycling facilities and waste-eliminating strategies seem either flimsy or absent altogether.
The questionable solution being put forward by the Minister is incineration. If we thought we knew all the pollutants produced by incinerating the wide variety of materials included in domestic waste, we would be scientifically naive. Equally, if we knew all the contributors to personal health ailments, including colds, asthma and terminal cancers, we would cut them out completely. However, we do not, and any chemistry teacher will confirm that incinerating something is one of the most radical transformations, with myriad known and probably some unknown by-products.
It is therefore ironic and confusing on the one hand to have the Minister for Health and Children introducing a ban on smoking in all public establishments on health grounds, while the Minister for the Environment and Local Government appears gung-ho and committed to managing as much waste as possible by incineration, thereby dumping tons of gas by-products into the air that we breathe. It is time to get serious about waste management and the protection of our environment. My party's position is very clear. We should invest in waste minimisation, recycling, composting and in the development of alternative energy sources.
Mr. Allen: We should be letting the winds around our coasts feed our energy needs, thereby reducing the quantity of noxious and toxic gases that we breathe into our lungs. That we have a growing waste management crisis has been apparent for some time, but this sad little Government has failed to date to deal with the problem effectively. It produced a strategic plan for the waste sector in 1998, entitled Waste Management: Changing Our Ways. Five years later, there has been little progress but much agreement that the country faces a waste management crisis. As I said, every resident is now producing 60% more waste than in 1995, and of that, only 10% – it may be a little more – is now being recycled.
Mr. Allen: —is being sent to landfill. The EPA estimates that the present licensed landfill capacity will run out within five years. A recent report estimates that the total volume of household, commercial and non-hazardous industrial waste produced in 2002 was 2.8 million tonnes, which is far ahead of previous projections. The regional waste management plans drafted in 1998 were based on assumptions that such a volume would not be reached until 2013. However, a report published in 2002 by Dr. Peter Bacon suggests that the figure could be exceeded much earlier than projected. Two regions, Dublin and Cork, stand out as having particularly acute problems. Deputy Martin's answer to that is to do nothing.
It is accepted that Ireland is about ten years behind its continental European neighbours in its waste management infrastructure. We now have to catch up to comply with EU directives, since our European neighbours are becoming increasingly intolerant of our lack of progress. In Ireland, as landfill capacity is being reduced—
Mr. Allen: The Minister seems to think that incineration is the be all and end all. What is his answer to the report in today's issue of the British Medical Journal about the high incidence of birth defects?
Mr. Allen: That is an accident, but putting an incinerator in an area is a ministerial decision. The Minister should not stick his head in the sand regarding the report in the British Medical Journal about high incidences of spina bifida and other diseases near incinerators. Rather than shrugging his shoulders, he should have a major rethink of his policy.
Mr. Allen: It is accepted that Ireland is about ten years behind its continental European neighbours in its waste management infrastructure. We now have to catch up to comply with EU directives, since our European neighbours are becoming increasingly intolerant of our lack of progress.
Mr. Allen: In Ireland, as landfill capacity is being reduced and costs are increasing, the level of illegal dumping has been on the rise. The Minister knows that illegal dumping is going on all over the place, as do local authorities which, in many cases, are not even acting.
The economic benefits of operating illegally continue to be attractive, and the recent well-publicised discoveries of illegal dumps have pinpointed that growing problem. A major environmental disaster is only around the corner, and its impact will have disastrous effects on agriculture and tourism. Alongside illegal dumping, there is also illegal exporting of waste from this country. A great deal of industrial waste is ending up in Northern Ireland and further afield in Scotland, where landfill rates are on average 50% lower than the charges operating here.
As far back as the mid 1980s I am on record in the Dáil as saying the lack of a national waste management policy was compromising our attitude to the United Kingdom, for example on Sellafield. We are seriously compromised by our dependence on our European neighbours to accept much of our industrial waste. I also stated that the lack of a national waste management policy would pose a threat to our economic and industrial growth. My view was expressed in this Dáil and the only other person who expressed them in 1998 was Gerard Brady from the Minister's side of the House. This was confirmed by the Forfás report in 2001 entitled Key Waste Management Issues in Ireland. The clear message is that we must change our ways and introduce waste prevention and waste minimisation. Even though these measures will not solve our problem they will contribute to an overall solution.
Recycling, which will help to reduce the volume of waste requiring treatment or disposal and in this regard Ireland's performance has been, despite a figure of 14%, a bit pathetic because we only recycle less than 8% of our household waste—
Mr. Allen: Composting will also contribute greatly to reducing waste. The less favoured option must be disposal and of the two disposal methods – landfill and thermal treatment – thermal treatment is a lazy option which can only be considered when all other options have been used to their maximum potential—
Mr. Cullen: I can give the Deputy the names of plants all over the world where the people have welcomed them with open arms. They do not have the pathetic political baloney that we have to listen to here.
Mr. Allen: All of the health implications expressed as recently as today in the British Medical Journal have been investigated and either rejected or confirmed. If incineration is now introduced all other waste treatment programmes will suffer because of the massive investment that will be required in incineration infrastructure. Ireland should resist this lazy and expensive option until all other avenues have been examined and developed. Due to our rapid industrial development since the mid-1990s the nature of our waste has changed dramatically and most products and materials contain a cocktail of chemicals that would be released during incineration with severe consequences for human health and the environment.
Mr. Allen: I sat and listened quietly to the Minister for half an hour when he spoke and insulted us on this side by saying we were involved in making political capital, and of political expediency. I sat here and kept my mouth shut and listened to the Minister. If he wants to—
Mr. Cullen: I have the greatest admiration for the way the Deputy's colleagues behaved at the vote in Cork the other night. A combination of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil councillors stood up to be counted and the rest of them ran out the door.
Mr. Allen: It will put it into our food chain. Incineration has the potential to cause more problems than it solves as well as being a very costly process. The recently published health research board's report which the Minister rubbished raised important issues and questions which must be dealt with before incineration is even considered. I am concerned that as recently as 1 April in this House the Minister seemed to dismiss the health research board's report. Today's disclosures in the British Medical Journal that children born to parents living in the vicinity of incinerators are at a high risk of spina bifida and other serious health problems is alarming. No incinerator should be authorised until the major questions on the health implications of incinerators are answered.
Mr. Allen: In many parts of the world incinerators are the largest source of toxic environmental pollutants such as lead, mercury and dioxins. Dioxins which are cancer causing are the most harmful chemicals known to science. In a report published in the 1990s the US environmental protection agency identified medical and municipal waste incinerators as the largest source of dioxin emissions into the environment, being responsible for about 84% of the total dioxin emissions in the United States. In Japan incinerators are estimated to cause 93% of dioxin emissions, in Switzerland 85%, in the UK 79% and in Denmark 71%. It is believed that over 200 toxic or potentially toxic substances can be emitted from the incineration of municipal waste alone, including heavy metals, furans, halogenated organic compounds and a range of other dangerous pollutants. These pollutants cause a variety of health problems, immune and reproductive system defects, respiratory diseases and conditions such as diabetes, hormone disruption and cancers. During incineration new substances are created many of which can be more toxic than those in the original waste. As a result of incineration pollutants are released into the environment in incinerator emissions and in the ash which is then spread into the environment. It is estimated that for every three tonnes of waste that are incinerated one tonne of ash is generated and that ash is usually landfilled or sometimes used in road construction.
The attitude to incinerators in other countries has changed. At a recent conference that I attended in Philadelphia, with members of the environment committee, I learnt that in the United States alone over 300 proposals for waste incinerators had been defeated or put on hold since 1985. In the Philippines, for example, a national ban on incineration has been in place since 1999.
Mr. Cullen: Would the Deputy accept as a point of information that we have nine incinerators working in Ireland at the moment and the combined emissions of the nine delivers less than 1% of the total dioxins in the air?
Mr. Allen: In recent times incineration technology has improved. However, that improvement has not stopped all emissions to the atmosphere and the greater the reduction in emissions to the atmosphere the more toxic the residual ash becomes. Does the Minister accept that fact? As was stated at the conference there may be high-tech incinerators but there is no such thing as a non-polluting incinerator. The international attitude to incinerators is changing. The Stockholm convention agreed by over 100 countries in 2001 identified all waste incinerators as primary sources of dioxins, PCBs and furan. Under the treaty, governments have committed to eliminating these and other harmful chemicals and the treaty emphasises the need for other methods of waste management than those which could create dioxins. Is not that correct?
Mr. Allen: Multinational vested interests present incinerators as a green energy source. However, recycling saves more energy than incineration. These sources advocate the incineration process as cost effective but this does not stand up to scrutiny. Incinerators, particularly those that have pollution reduction systems installed, are very expensive. Local authorities or regions that invest in incinerators often find they have far less money to invest in more sustainable forms of waste management such as waste minimisation and recycling and therefore incinerators rely on the continued generation of waste to support their high construction and operating costs.
Incineration is a costly, hazardous and lazy approach to waste management and rather than prevent pollution, it burdens the taxpayer with higher costs, ongoing pollution and environmental damage. We must have a more sustainable approach to the waste management problem and deal with it in a far safer and most cost effective manner. Waste and its management is a challenge, but it should also be looked at as a potential resource that should be recovered and brought back into the economy. Recycling and composting waste is a more sustainable approach to waste management and can reduce costs and create jobs, as most recycling projects would remain in local communities generating local income, if properly managed.
If we examine the experiences in Canada, Australia and Belgium, successful recycling programmes have brought about reductions of up to 70% in municipal waste. If incineration is pursued as a solution to the waste crisis, Ireland will not be in a position financially to develop the other more acceptable and environmentally friendly waste management options. Therefore, it is incorrect to say those other options can provide a sustainable solution to a national and global problem. Incineration certainly does not provide that solution.
My party will vigorously resist the attempts by the Minister to further erode the rights of councillors and the powers of local authorities, as contained in provisions in the Bill. This Bill is being used as a vehicle to sneak in another series of stealth taxes by the Minister's agents in the authorities throughout the country. By giving managers the power to impose charges on refuse collections, the Minister will give them the power to review and to amend waste management plans. This is strangling local democracy with another set of centralised decisions.
Mr. Gilmore: If this were budget day, this House would be full of Members anxiously scanning the statement of the Minister for Finance for new taxes or changes in our taxation code. There would not be a seat to be found in the press gallery, as representatives of the fourth estate would examine the statement of the Minister for Finance to see if any new taxes were being proposed which would impact on the people. Proceedings of the House would be broadcast live and people at home would watch and calculate what the impact of the budget would be on their household budget. Tomorrow's papers would be full of all of the examples showing how the tax changes would impact on the annual household budget of Duncan and Mary, the favourite couple of the Minister for Finance to whom he claims to have given so much tax back over the past five or six years.
However, today is not budget day. It is a Thursday evening before yet another of the “Bertie breaks” that are now becoming so commonplace in this House, as the Taoiseach uses every public holiday and church festival to flee from the accountability of Dáil Éireann. I can understand well why members of the press and Members of the House might be tempted to treat the Protection of the Environment Bill as yet another routine Bill which goes through this House, a Bill which is transposing an EU directive on emissions licensing, about which there probably will not be a great deal of controversy since presumably everybody is in favour of protecting the environment.
Acting Chairman: I regret I must interrupt the Deputy to temporarily adjourn debate on this Bill to deal with item No. 1 on today's Order Paper, a private business Report of the Joint Committee on The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (Charters Amendment) Bill 2002, without debate.
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