State fined €3.5m over environment

 

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan was facing criticism last night after the State was ordered to pay €3.5 million and an ongoing daily fine of €12,000 for breaches of EU environmental law.

Two separate judgments were handed down against the State at the European Court of Justice yesterday.

The first related to the State’s failure to properly regulate the installation and use of septic tanks, following an initial Court of Justice ruling in 2009. For this the State was ordered to pay €2 million and fined an ongoing €12,000 per day, from yesterday, until the situation is rectified.

Environmental impact

The second case involved the State’s failure to impose environmental impact assessments on projects relating to irrigation or land drainage which did not take sensitive countryside features fully into account. In this case the State was fined €1.5 million but no daily fine was imposed.

The court heard discharges from septic tanks, of which there are close to 500,000 in the Republic, have contributed to microbiological pollution of ground water and nutrient pollution of surface water. Prosecuting the case, the EU Commission argued that poorly designed, located or maintained tanks put human health at risk due to the danger of pathogens entering drinking water.

How much this daily fine will amount to was unclear yesterday. Mr Hogan said the Environmental Protection Agency was finalising a septic tank inspection programme and this would be ready early next year. When this takes place the State would be compliant and the daily fines would then stop. Mr Hogan said the cases were “legacy issues” which preceded his time in office.

‘Tip of the iceberg’

However, Mr Hogan’s failure to deal with the issue before the State was fined led to criticism from a broad range of environmental and political organisations last night.

MEP Marian Harkin said the State had had nearly 20 years to implement the EU water framework directive. An Taisce chairman Charles Stanley-Smith said the daily fine amounted to “a civil servant’s annual salary every four days and will continue until a satisfactory registration, inspection and maintenance regime is in place”.

The Environmental Pillar, a coalition of 26 national environmental groups, warned the fines were “just the tip of the iceberg”. Spokesman Michael Ewing said “damage is being done to our natural resources on a daily basis and there will be huge long-term economic costs in trying to fix the problems”.

The group Friends of the Irish Environment and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan separately said the fines were “a wake-up call”.