The Deputy misunderstands what precisely BATNEEC is all about. It is not my intention that all existing industries would not be licensed by the agency. It is proposed that the agency will initially begin operating BATNEEC as one of six measures they will have to take into account when deciding to licence an activity under the First Schedule. Obviously, this will begin with all new activities coming into Ireland.
With regard to existing activities covered by the First Schedule, it is envisaged that over time all of their licence applications will be reviewed by the agency and BATNEEC will be applied to them. It would be unreasonable on day one to suddenly expect older plants to apply the same kind of technologies which can be applied to new plants starting from scratch. That would be unreasonable and would not be playing the game fairly. Generally speaking, the older the activity the greater the pollution caused. It is envisaged that all activities covered by the First Schedule will be brought under the auspices of the agency for licensing purposes as quickly as possible.
Obviously technologies are changing as technical knowledge improves and so on. If the agency were to license in year one a particular activity and there were technological developments in that field in year two, does Deputy Byrne envisage that because there is an improved BATNEEC for that class of development that within a year or thereabouts of the activity having first been licensed it should be upgraded to the new standard? I do not think the Deputy envisages that that should be the case. Once a plant is licensed by the agency it will become an established activity, even if it is new. It is not envisaged, nor would it be desirable, that the agency should have to constantly go back to companies as technology improves and expect those changes to be put into practice instantaneously in cases although that might not be desirable or necessary from an environmental point of view.
When one is talking about matters relating to technology and technical knowledge it is probably more difficult to understand what is involved than when one is talking about buildings. For example, it has never been envisaged as planning criteria improve that we should require established buildings to be changed, knocked down and rebuilt from scratch. Even though standards improve and opinions on what is acceptable change it is not thought desirable under the planning system that a building should be knocked so that another building which would be more acceptable from a visual point of view could be put in its place. The reason we do not expect this is that when we are talking about physical buildings we seem to accept that they are there and that is the way they will be. However, when one is talking about technology we seem to think it is easier to put in place the kind of things which might be desired.
I assure Deputies it is intended to bring all existing activities in the First Schedule, for example, pharmaceutical and chemical companies, food processing companies and so on under the auspices of the Environmental Protection Agency as quickly as possible. Obviously regard will have to be had for the age of a plant. Some plants might be coming very near the end of their lives. For example, it might be envisaged that a plant will go out of operation in a year or two. If this is the case obviously it would not be desirable to require that plant to put in place the best available technology at that time.
With regard to their licensing role the agency will have to take a number of things, including BATNEEC, into account when deciding to grant a licence. There is an assumption that the best available technology not entailing excessive costs is the only criteria the agency will take into account when prescribing conditions for the licensee. First, the agency will have to be satisfied that any emissions from the activity will not result in the contravention of any relevant air quality standards specified under section 50 of the Air Pollution Act, 1987, and will comply with any relevant emission limit value specified under section 51 of the Air Pollution Act, 1987. Second, they will have to be satisfied that any emissions from the activity will not result in the contravention of any relevant quality standards for water, trade effluents and sewage effluents and standards in relation to treatment of such effluents and so on.
Third, they will have to satisfy themselves that any emissions from the activity of any premises, plant, methods, processes, operating procedures or other factors which affect such emissions will comply with, or will not result in the contravention of any relevant standard, including any standard for an environmental medium prescribed under regulations made under the European Communities Act, 1972. That obviously relates to the area of waste. Fourth, they will have to be satisfied that the noise from the activity will comply with regulations under section 104 and fifth, that any emission from the activity will not cause significant pollution. Therefore the best available technology is not the only matter that will have to be taken into account by the agency. It is not true to say that in order to be able to comply with high standards the best available technology is always required. Neither is it desirable that if the best available technology not involving excessive cost is put in place an investor can be assured, unless there is environmental pollution in which case the circumstances would be different, that he or she will not have to change the investment within a short period of time. If the Deputy's amendment is accepted it would require the agency to constantly review every licence as technology improves, even though that might be within a very short period from the time of the granting of the initial licence. I do not believe that would be necessary or desirable.
As I said earlier in reply to Deputy Garland's amendment on clean production, in the main we import technologies into Ireland and therefore we depend very much on developments elsewhere. The definition and the concept being used here are the ones most widely used in the developed world, that is the best available technology not involving excessive cost, together with other criteria. The Deputy's aim is to bring under the control of the agency all existing activities so that they would be licensed to higher standards. That matter would be more appropriate to section 80 which deals with the established activities. We will probably have a longer debate on this matter when we come to deal with that section. I want to make it perfectly clear that this agency will not only deal with new activities that are set up in the future but will be charged with reviewing licences and monitoring and enforcing conditions in relation to a large number of existing activities covered by the First Schedule to the Bill.