Parliament: Environment: Watchdog `too close to industry'

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The Independent Online
A POLLUTION watchdog was yesterday accused of being "too close" to companies it monitors. The Environment Agency, which prosecutes firms that pollute land, rivers and atmosphere with dangerous chemicals, needs a "cultural shift", Friends of the Earth (FoE) campaigner Mike Childs told MPs.

He said: "I don't think there is collusion, but a culture has developed where the inspector is extremely close to the industry. They work together so a culture develops that has enabled the Agency, the regulator, to be sucked into industry's primary concerns."

Mr Childs urged robust leadership at the Agency, although he agreed there had been improvements in its performance since the 1997 election. In written evidence to the Commons Environment Committee, FoE said the Agency's failure to work effectively with communities suffering industrial pollution was one of its greatest concerns. "Research by FoE has shown there are 662 Integrated Pollution Control regulated plants in areas of average household income below pounds 15,000 and only five in areas with average household income of pounds 30,000 or more.

"We suspect that people in poorer neighbourhoods are likely to be less engaged in the decision-making process around these plants than from wealthier neighbourhoods."