I thank the Chairman on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency for inviting us to address this committee. We are delighted to have the opportunity. My colleagues have already been introduced so I will dispense with that in the interests of time. With the Chairman's permission, I thought we would give an overview of the work we have been involved in over the past year to set a context for the Environmental Protection Agency. We have spoken with the previous committee, but not with this committee, so it would be useful if we could set some context. I am conscious that there are a number of specific issues various people want to get around to, and either within the presentation or after the presentation we will come to those. We are willing to answer any questions if we can, and send on information if we cannot.
The Environmental Protection Agency is an independent public body established in 1993. Our sponsor in Government is the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. All our powers to act are derived from Acts of the Oireachtas, in particular the Environmental Protection Agency Act and the Waste Management Act. We also have a number of statutory obligations in those Acts and regulations. We have freedom to act on our own initiative, and our independence in decision making is assured by a very strong provision in the EPA Act that it is an offence to communicate for the purposes of influencing improperly any consideration of a matter which falls to be considered or decided by the agency. We act independently in our decision making.
We are constituted as an executive board. I am the Director General, Mr. Lynott is one of four executive directors and each director has executive responsibility for one of four offices. These are the offices of climate licensing and resource use, environmental enforcement in the case of Mr. Lynott, environmental assessment and communications and corporate services. We are assisted in our work by a number of committees, mostly statutory committees. We have an EPA advisory committee, a GMO advisory committee, an advisory group on national allocations which looks after emissions trading and a national waste prevention committee. We have an internal audit committee we have constituted ourselves, with an external chairperson and representation for good governance.
Our headquarters are in Wexford. We are currently sanctioned for 340 staff in ten locations around Ireland, which is very useful when one considers we are looking after the environment around the whole country. The regional inspectorates are in Kilkenny, Monaghan, Castlebar, Cork and Dublin. We have two-person hydrometric offices in Mallow, Athlone, Limerick and Letterkenny. This gives us good coverage of the jurisdiction. Our budget is a mixture of Exchequer funding and earned income. The Exchequer funding is broken down into grant aid, moneys from the environment fund, particularly for enforcement and research, and that in turn comes from plastic bag levies and the tax on landfills into the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. We have also received specific funding on the water framework directive. Our earned income comes from fees for the licences we issue, enforcement charges for our enforcement and monitoring work, and recently from auctioning emissions on trading allowances. We also earned some money from services we provided to local authorities. Our budget for 2008 was almost €71 million. That was a 43% increase on our budget for 2007, mostly to cover new functions assigned to us in that time and a new tranche of staff which were also sanctioned.
In 2007 we looked at a new strategy, and we did something very different from what we did before. We looked as far as 2020 and set out what the EPA sees as a vision for the environment to 2020. We also dealt with our role in achieving that vision because the environment is not an area looked after by one organisation but by many. Part of the challenge we will have until 2020 is engaging other organisations, local authorities, the public and various other stakeholders in helping us to achieve our vision.
I will not go through it in too much detail, but we have set six goals, of which an important one is to limit and adapt to climate change. I know that is one of the issues committee members would like to discuss with us today. We also aim to protect our water resources, ensure clean air, and protect the soil and biodiversity. The latter is related to the issue of contaminated land which I know is of interest to the committee. Another goal is the sustainable use of resources, which deals with waste and packaging. Again, this is one of the issues raised by the committee. Integration and enforcement are also important because if environmental protection is not integrated with other areas of economic activity, we cannot realise sustainable development. We need to enforce environmental legislation to achieve this.
I wish to say a few words about climate change. Our ambition to limit and adapt to climate change has been set out as a goal. Last year was a watershed, mainly because climate change gained high public awareness due to the efforts of international, national and local politicians. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a fourth report which assessed where we were as a planet in terms of climate change. The issuing of that report was a key milestone in changing attitudes towards climate change. The fact that the IPCC and Senator Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize jointly for their work on climate change brought the issue further up the agenda and made it very topical. In the EPA we have a number of functions relating to climate change. In setting out our strategy we decided to put all these functions together. Because this is such an important matter, we made some structural changes and established a new climate change unit. We made a specific presentation on the issue to members' colleagues at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. We have included that presentation in the pack and anyone who wishes to ask questions on it may feel free to do so.
Emissions trading is one of the measures we administer. There are 111 installations which hold valid trading permits which we administer. Ireland is 100% compliant with the scheme, as it stands, and we have prepared a first and second national allocation plan. As a country, we have done everything we need to do in this area.
We also deal with the emissions inventory. The EPA is the body which reports to the United Nations on the levels of greenhouse gases emitted in Ireland. We have recently taken on new work dealing with emissions projections. This is work which the European Union and the United Nations need done and the EPA has been assigned the job of doing it. We will be publishing our projections early in the autumn and have done much work in this area. We also represent and support the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on technical issues at international conferences. For example, we were in Bali last December.
We also conduct quite an amount of research in the field of climate change, an area where much more research is required. The challenge for Ireland in meeting the targets set under the Kyoto protocols and the further ones to 2020 is so onerous that we really must invest in research in all kinds of areas in order to come up with ideas and ways of meeting those targets. We co-ordinate climate change research in Ireland from an environmental point of view. We also co-ordinate a committee that ensures there is no overlap among all the funders in the area of climate change and that funding is channelled in directions that are synergistic.
One of our innovations during the year was a lecture series on climate change. The lectures were held in the Mansion House in Dublin at the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008. We invited a number of very distinguished speakers, mostly people who had contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC. It was a series of seven lectures for the public. We thought that about 120 people might come to meetings on Tuesday evenings in Dublin but we had about 450 people. At one meeting there were 600, while the average was about 380 at each lecture. We had to move the venue to the Mansion House because the first place we chose was packed. This experience shows how engaged the Irish public is with the whole issue of climate change. Many of our speakers commented to us that the audience was very engaged and sophisticated in terms of understanding some highly complex issues. We were conscious that we could only hold the lectures in Dublin so we video-taped them and they are available on our website. On view is a snapshot of Martin Manning, one of the first speakers we had. We encourage people in schools and universities, or those who just wish to know about the subject, to look at the lectures on the website. Some are about the science and others are about the politics of the subject. We found the series to be very useful.
I know that members are interested in the issue of greenhouse gas because it is one of the subjects they identified for us. I have included some slides to show present trends in the greenhouse gas study. On view is a simple bar chart depicting change from 1990 to 2006, the latter date being the last year for which we have official figures. We will produce figures for 2007 in the autumn. There is a clear timetable for the United Nations and the EU on that matter. The chart shows that we have increased emissions from about 55 million tonnes in 1990 to about 70 million tonnes at present. The figure peaked in 2001 and there was subsequently a small reduction which was really more of a stablilisation than a genuine reduction. The figure went back up again after that. There are reasons why that reduction happened. We must get below 56,000 tonnes for our 2020 targets and that will be a very difficult job for us.
The following slide shows another version indicating the different sectors that give rise to greenhouse gas emissions. In the case of transport, the red-brown line rises very clearly and continues to do so. Agriculture on the green line is the highest and it is unusual in the European context to have a very high percentage of greenhouse gases from agriculture. While it is high, it is either falling or stable. It is not easy to find reductions in that area. Members can see that the transport line is rising relentlessly. We can return to that matter later on.
A second goal for us is clean air. Everyone will agree that clean air is something to which citizens are entitled. We are lucky in that air quality in Ireland is very good. The EPA reports on key indicators of ambient air quality every year. We have in place an air monitoring network to comply with various EU directives. Some of those monitors are stationary and some are mobile. In the bigger cities and towns, we would have stationary monitoring on all the time and we have real time monitoring which we make available on our website. If one wants to look at Winetavern Street, Pearse Street or Rathmines in Dublin, one can just click on and see what the air quality is like. We have mobile ones which go to the smaller towns. Last year we had them in Wexford, Ennis, Donegal and Knocklyon. We move around the country and then we publish the data which citizens can find on our website. We also give that information to Met Eireann and they publish it in their weather forecasts. It is very important for people who have asthma or respiratory problems to be able to access that kind of information because it can affect their health.
Environmental noise maps are quite interesting. This was a new piece of work we did last year for a directive on environmental noise at European level. Those maps are not published on our website yet, but they will be accessible shortly. It is fairly predictable. Around the big cities there is a fair amount of noise, but the contributions to noise levels of motorways and transport are very clear. Particulate matter is another area we deal with.
A very important goal area is the sustainable use of resources. We set up a resource use unit within the organisation. We made some changes to make sure our organisation was structured in the correct way to deliver on the goals identified. In the resource use unit we have a national waste prevention programme which produces its own annual reports. I have picked out a few key points from it. Under the local authority waste prevention demonstration programme we partner with individual local authorities, 14 at the moment, to put in place at local level initiatives to prevent waste arising. We are all very conscious that the amount of waste disposed of in landfill is rising every year. What we at the EPA are interested in is trying to reduce that figure. It is very difficult. We are hoping to get the other local authorities on board once the demonstration programme is finished. We have had a lot of interest in that.
One of the questions was to do with packaging waste and we can come talk about that specifically later on. We have a packaging waste prevention programme which we are running with Repak. The companies who are members of Repak are trying to cut down on the amount of packaging around their products. It is a multi-annual programme which has only just started. We do not have any results from it yet, but we hope it will concentrate minds on trying to move away from over-packaging and putting things in packets and boxes which are much too big for the product.
We also have green business and green homes initiatives. We have had a very good project with Irish hotels where they have been able to save money and energy, cut down on their waste and save water emissions. It has been a win for the environment and on the economic front. The programme will be expanded to other hotels. The model is so good that we can target various business sectors and work specifically within those sectors to help them do those kinds of things. Producer responsibility is an area where, in the last year, we have acquired more responsibilities. We have had responsibility for packaging for some time. WEEE is the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment directive. I am sure the committee is aware that one can bring back used electrical equipment to a store when buying something new. We co-ordinate that and it has been a real success story for Ireland. The local authorities and the private sector companies got involved and it has turned out to a real success.
We are now collecting 7.4 kg per capita of electronic waste in Ireland, compared to an average of just over 4 kg in Europe. One does not often hear that Ireland is ahead of others, but this is one of those areas that was well designed, well run and is working very well. The public have bought into it so well because it is very convenient for them to bring back their materials.
Other work in that area is the compilation of the national waste report. We have a statutory obligation to produce a report every two years, and we produce an interim report every other year as well because we feel we need to keep those statistics up to date. We are interested in looking at the trends, how much waste is being generated, breaking it into various streams, how it is treated and whether it is increasing. Unfortunately, the amount of waste generated continues to increase every year. That is a function of our economic boom over the last while, our increased population and so on. Nevertheless, it is a trend which needs to be reversed. We are finding it extremely difficult across Europe to reverse that trend; it is the same in all countries. That is why we have our waste prevention programme in place.
One of our statutory obligations is to produce, every four years or so, a national hazardous waste management plan. We have a draft in circulation for consultation and that will be published in September or early October. We do a lot of research on the waste side, some of which would be to do with finding market uses for waste. Some of it has been very interesting in terms of what will make people change their behaviour in terms of generation of waste or dealing with waste or recycling.
The area of protected soil and biodiversity is not one in regard to which the EPA has a real mandate under the law. It is an area for Teagasc, the National Parks & Wildlife Service and other agencies. Nevertheless we felt we could not produce a strategy with a vision for the environment without having a vision for clean soil and good biodiversity. We, therefore, set up a very small unit within our own organisation to co-ordinate any interfaces we have with these areas. On the soil side, for example, following a direction from the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, we have developed a code of practice for old waste sites. This is an issue about which the committee will probably want to question us later. The code of practice involves identifying and assessing risk and looking at remediation of all old waste sites around Ireland, and the implementation of that has commenced.
We are also running an abandoned mines project with GSI. We update the CORINE landcover map. We have a national soils archive in collaboration with Teagasc. We commissioned some research around this area, mainly to find out the state of various parameters in order that we can make suggestions or recommendations or, if it is our duty, do something ourselves. We have the landcover maps, the soil and subsoil maps. These are all available on our website. We are making available to the public as much information as we can.
One of our biggest jobs in the Environmental Protection Agency is licensing and enforcement of licences. We license all major industrial facilities and waste facilities. Last year we issued 121 final decisions. We issue a draft decision first and then it is out for public comment and then a final decision. There are two stages for the board. One is a draft and the other is a final decision. The figures are there; I will not go through all of them. There are a few highlights. We held one oral hearing. We do that with controversial sites or issues where there is significant public interest. One oral hearing we held last year related to the Corrib field and there were two oral hearings that have not reported back to us yet on other waste infrastructure.
We also issue certificates of registration for smaller waste facilities such as civic amenity sites and other such areas. We are also the organisation that gives consent for genetically modified organisms use including contained use, which is mostly laboratories, and deliberate release, which is for people intending to plant, although we have not done any of those this year. We also inspect the people who are using it but currently it is mostly concerned with laboratories in universities.
When we issue all those licences our obligation then is to enforce the conditions we put in them. Dara Lynott's unit in environmental enforcement does that by way of audits, inspections and compliance meetings. The numbers of meetings are listed.
We also take many complaints about facilities on which I have given members some figures. We had 374 complaints about industrial facilities but of those, three facilities account for 38% of the complaints. It is clear there is an issue in those companies and we generally get somebody in to sort it. Similarly, on the waste side, four facilities account for almost 70% of the complaints. Those are older facilities around landfills. It is clear that the public is using our system to tell us when something is going wrong and we generally get somebody in to address it. It is not always easy to address the complaints but we will have somebody in place to try to do that.
In terms of prosecutions, the legislation allows us to take summary prosecutions in the District Court but for more serious cases or cases on indictment we must go to the Director of Public Prosecutions as in the case of the gardaí. We sent two files to the DPP last year and another one this year. Three files, therefore, have been accepted by the DPP for more serious cases which are to be prosecuted on indictment. As members can imagine, that is a fairly labour intensive job. We have been doing a great deal of it in the recent past and have had to increase our capacity and capability in the legal area.
Last year we tried to help the public and others to make an environmental complaint if they see something going wrong. Under the banner "See Something? Say Something!" we have produced a small brochure, which is in the pack provided to members, which outlines who is responsible because it is not always clear to members of the public who they should ring. We have given them a good deal of information on the people they should get in touch with, and we have a process for dealing with those complaints and following up on them.
Given that we are also responsible for supervising local authorities in terms of their environmental obligations we have set up an environmental enforcement network, which is an innovative way of getting work done. It is leveraging all those involved in environmental enforcement in the various agencies throughout the country, including those across the Border. There is a major cross-Border element to this in that we work with our colleagues in the Environment and Heritage Service and with the Police Service of Northern Ireland on cross-Border issues.
We have a national complaints procedure, which is outlined in the brochure distributed. We have an illegal dumping line. We have a number of working groups that include local authorities, fisheries boards, the gardaí and various people involved in enforcement. We train the local authority staff in enforcement techniques and develop an enforcement plan with the local authorities, which we approve. We have a well co-ordinated approach to enforcement across the EPA, local authorities and other people.
With regard to public authority enforcement, local authorities have licences from us, as does the private sector, and we enforce those licences in the same way but we also supervise local authorities in terms of some of their other functions, for example, drinking water and waste water. We conduct audits and investigations on foot of complaints. We issue advice and recommendations under various sections of the legislation available to us.
In recent years, because of powers we have been given, we have engaged in a new activity involving the issuing of binding directions on local authorities to implement various measures when we see they are not doing them. I have included an example of a very badly operating waste water treatment plant. Members will see that it is overflowing and is badly managed. It was possible to have it cleaned up on foot of a direction from us. A second direction was issued to the same local authority enjoining it to improve the quality of the water discharged. We find such directions extremely useful. Local authorities always respond to them and that new tool in our armoury is useful for getting real work done.
We are responsible for co-ordinating environmental research in Ireland. Under the current national development plan the EPA administers €91 million for environmental research. Before we started doing this work only a very small amount of environmental research took place. It was unfunded so that the researchers were not really able to make the most of their study. Now there is a very vibrant environmental research community across the universities and other research institutions. We have expanded into the economic and social side of environmental research and do not confine our work to scientific research. We have launched a new programme for the next national development plan. In line with Government policy of trying to increase Ph.Ds we have grant awarded many doctorates, reaching our 100th Ph.D in 2007. This is a huge step from where enviromental research had been before. It is very important to make sure that funding for research is kept going because research is not something that can be switched off and picked up three years later. Continuity and investment over a number of years are key. As well as challenges there are many significant opportunities for researchers in the environmental field.
Using the accompanying maps I wish to show another project we undertook in 2007. We are trying to put all the information we can on the Internet so that the public can have as much access as possible to information. We gather an incredible amount of data and what we are doing at present is mining much of this and putting it online in map base, using Google Earth type technology and map and GIS technology which are very user friendly. If people want to know something about a particular area they can click on it just as they can with Google Earth, and can find what IPC licence sites or waste licences are in their area. They can go to a further level and call up the actual licence and look at its details on the site. They can see all the correspondence we have had during the licensing process. We do not have our enforcement work up yet but that is the next part of our project and it will soon be available. It takes a little time to get these things done. This work means that wherever a person is living, he or she does not have to drive to Wexford to have a look at a public file but can look at it at home.
In similar fashion, the following slide shows our air site. A person can go to the map and check if there is an air site local to him or her. This slide shows that air quality in the area depicted is very good. We are trying to give people as much real time information as we can.
We clearly have a lot of responsibility in terms of water, mainly in measuring, monitoring and reporting. We produce water quality indicators of the aquatic environment. We publish our annual report later today and members can see in their copies the indicators of water quality. We produce specific reports of water on a three-yearly and on an annual basis. The EPA has been charged with co-ordinating the water framework directive. Ireland scored highest in Europe on implementing the directive last year and we hope to keep that situation in place when we move to the next milestones to come from the EU. We are not always on top when reporting to the EU and when we are we like to highlight it.
We produced reports on bathing water quality at the beginning of the summer, and on drinking water quality, which we have done for quite a number of years. Recently we have taken on a new role in regard to drinking water. Last March we were given responsibility for supervising local authorities in terms of the drinking water. Local authorities must now inform us if there have been any infringements of drinking water quality and we must work with them and issue directions if necessary to have any infringements cleaned up. That new responsibility in regard to drinking water is very important and we are taking it very seriously. Some of the new staff we have were recruited to set up a drinking water inspectorate within the organisation.
Until the end of 2007 waste water treatment plants were not regulated by licence. The EPA has now been designated to license waste water treatment plants run by local authorities. Until then we had been auditing plants but did not have a regulatory role. We will be issuing the first licenses again this autumn and will see the first draft licence in August. We had 65 applications. The biggest ones came in September 2007 and we will be issuing the licences very shortly to those. We have another 200 applications to come in November this year and that goes on until we get down to the very small ones.
We do quite a lot of research around the water quality area. We have a good reputation in Europe for having good research, good data and good knowledge in that area. Much of that research feeds into our commitments under various legislation. For the past couple of years we have held a national water conference in Galway. It is very well attended by local authorities and anybody involved with water issues.
That is as much as I want to say in terms of what we do. In order to deliver the targets we will have to work with lots of other people and we look forward to doing that.