EXCLUSIVE: Sir James Bevan to argue that egregious breaches of environmental law should result in increased fines that put a ‘major dent’ in bottom lines and sentences that ‘put bosses in jail’

The boss of the Environment Agency will this morning call for the UK to use its recently gained independence from the EU to introduce greater fines and tougher sentences for firms that break environmental rules.

In an address to the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum, Sir James Bevan is to argue that Brexit provides the UK with a major opportunity to introduce stricter penalties for firms that flout environmental standards.

He is to argue that a “bigger stick” approach would cut costs for taxpayers, deliver better outcomes for businesses, and enable the UK government to move more swiftly towards its environmental goals.

“Now we have left the EU we have a great opportunity to rethink completely how we protect and enhance nature,” he is to tell attendees at the conference. “We could invent a new model which would simultaneously improve the environment, deliver better for business and cost the taxpayer less.”

Regulators should be given more powers to crackdown on companies that break environmental law, he is to say, setting out a vision where regulated industries would be made to pay the “full cost” of damage they do to the environment and the “biggest and worst polluters” are slapped with much tougher punishments.

In particularly egregious cases of pollution or envionmental damage, Bevan will argue that he would like to see fines “so large they would put a major dent in companies’ bottom lines and sentences that would put their bosses in jail”.

Bevan is to also argue that regulated industries should be made to cover the full cost of their own environmental regulation, instead of costs being passed on to the taxpayer.

“Mitigating the extent of climate change by reducing carbon emissions is crucial to tackling it,” he will say. “If we want to mitigate, we need to regulate. Yet it’s also true that the right regulation isn’t exactly what we have now, and the way we regulate in this country can and should change to fit the new context in which we find ourselves.”

He will also argue that regualations crafted post-Brexit should be “proportionate, risk-based and outcome-focused”, noting that some EU legislation is too prescriptive and overly detailed.

The intervention comes as the Environment Agency has faced criticism in recent months, with some campaigners arguing that its budgets and resources have been cut so deeply that it is struggling to adequately enforce some environmental regulations.

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