Government may impose taxes to reduce pollution

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT may impose environmental taxes on motoring, electricity, fuel, water, household rubbish and industrial waste, Michael Howard, the Secretary of State for the Environment, said yesterday.

Ministers now preferred to use taxation, financial incentives and other economic instruments instead of regulations to conserve natural resources and curb pollution, he told a press conference.

He was launching a follow-up report to the Government White Paper on the environment published two years ago. Mr Howard said he wanted to launch a national debate 'on the central question of how we should meet both the needs of the environment and the needs of the economy'.

But the report was greeted with derision by environmental groups and opposition politicians. They said it lacked any significant new policies.

Like Mr Howard, his predecessors Chris Patten and Michael Heseltine both said they were strong believers in environemntal taxes and financial incentives and making polluters pay. But neither were able to persuade the Treasury and fellow ministers to make any significant progress on introducing them.

To date, just one such economic instrument is well established - cheaper lead-free petrol, and most cars on the road still take leaded fuel.

Mr Howard said a special unit in his department was drawing up proposals but he made no commitments on when or whether any would be implemented. 'There is a new impetus . . . I am determined to succeed,' he said. Other countries had shown that economic instruments could protect the environment.

The report published yesterday discusses a 'carbon tax' on fuels which produce global warming carbon dioxide gas and pro rata charges to companies based on how much water they take from rivers and aquifers and how much liquid waste they discharge.

It says an in-depth study on the pros and cons of road pricing in London will be ready in 1994.

'This document is predictable, bland and appallingly self-congratulatory,' Chris Smith, Labour's environmental protection spokesman, said.

Fiona Reynolds, director of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, said that unless the Government changed its environmental priorities 'the effectiveness of economic instruments can only be marginal - like fiddling while Rome burns'.