Incinerator levy and plastic bag charge increase planned


A BILL being published today will give Minister for the Environment John Gormley and his successors the power to charge similar levies per tonne on waste going to incineration as to landfill.

The Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011 introduces a new power to charge a waste levy on incineration facilities, including the controversial “energy from waste” plant planned for Poolbeg, in Mr Gormley’s Dublin constituency.

It also amends the Waste Management Acts 1996-2003 to give more flexibility in setting the levy on plastic supermarket bags and the landfill levy – with new upper limits of 70 cent for plastic bags and €120 per tonne for waste going to landfill. The Bill would not impose large increases immediately, but merely specify these figures as upper limits.

The current levy on bags went from 15 to 22 cent in July 2007, while the landfill levy rose by €5 per tonne to €30 last February.

This element of the legislation is based on the Minister’s view that significant increases in the maximum landfill levy “are warranted in order to maintain the dissuasive impact of the levy and to drive recycling and diversion from landfill”.

The Bill will introduce a levy on incineration “to ensure it does not obtain a competitive advantage”. Although the exact amount would be laid down by ministerial order, the Bill sets down the same formula and ceiling level of €120 per tonne as for landfill.

Powers for the charging and collection of the new waste facility levy would be the same as those for the existing landfill levy, according to the Bill’s explanatory memorandum. As with the landfill levy, revenue raised would go to the Environment Fund.

In both cases, the Bill provides that no levy may exceed €120 per tonne or be increased by more than €50 once in any one financial year. It also lays down similar provisions for charging interest on unpaid levies as is the case with the plastic bag levy.

The new levy would be “chargeable on incineration of waste classed either as disposal or recovery, for the purposes of the prevention of the generation of waste and the reduction of the quantity of waste disposed of or submitted for recovery”.

One of the arguments used by Dublin City Council, and its private sector partners Covanta in promoting the Poolbeg incinerator, is that it would generate energy from waste for electricity or district heating, and thus qualifies as a “recovery” facility.

To head off any legal challenge, Mr Gormley has been told by Attorney General Paul Gallagher SC, that amendments to the Bill “will be required before enactment” to ensure it complies with the EU’s revised Waste Framework Directive, adopted in 2008.

The Bill also updates the 1987 Air Pollution Act by increasing the penalty for offences on summary conviction from €1,270 to €5,000 (or €500,000 on indictment) and for continuing offences from €127 to €500 per day (€5,000 per day on indictment).

For certain offences, it introduces a new graduated system of “fixed payment notices” – previously known as “on-the-spot fines”.

For example, there would be a €1,000 fine for the marketing, sale or distribution of bituminous coal in smoke-control areas.

The Bill would also amend the Freedom of Information Act by providing for the non-disclosure of information obtained by a local authority from the occupiers of premises on activities or processes being carried out, or even emissions, “to protect trade secrets”.