Deputy Stagg, I hope you never have to get recycled because you cannot even find the handlebars.
Let us concentrate on the issue. I wonder if anybody in our public service is looking at this question or something similar, and asking if we should not use recycled paper in the Houses of the Oireachtas or in the public service because it is being used elsewhere. Undoubtedly somebody who says that will be smiled at and everybody will think it is a little naive and childish, but it will not make much difference. They are right for as long as people think in that way — that it is a grand idea, that it is for the freaks or the ingénue but does not have much to do with the real world.
Meanwhile, firms who have a perfectly good eco friendly commercial idea are scrambling around carrying out commercial promotions and growing only very slowly where in fact they are producing something that is much more worth while than, for instance, what is produced by various people such as those whose products Deputies will again be spending time looking at in the next few weeks. I am thinking of those who produce glossy Christmas cards on unrecycled paper and printed in highly toxic ink.
It is not part of our culture yet to look systematically at those issues, and that is part of the reason we have reached the point at which we need a Bill that contains the kind of powers set out here; indeed, perhaps we need a Bill with even greater powers.
What of glass recycling? We all use glass, though many of us have moved away from using this product in a great many ways, but do we consider recycling glass? The Minister of State has been very active in this regard and has promoted the bottle bank idea all around the country. However, even the most successful of those projects here or in any other European Community country will indicate very clearly that they receive only a small proportion of the potential amount of material they could get. Only a small proportion of what is recyclable is coming through the system to be recycled. Again, that is because we do not have that culture and because we think that people who go on about such matters are grand, are nice people, but are a little off the wall and are not to be taken too seriously. As I said at the beginning, that is because we have not latched on to the idea that we are talking about here not about improving our environment but about stopping it from getting worse, and it has been getting worse for decades.
Then there is the current argument in relation to toxic waste disposal, about the incineration of toxic waste and about the transport of toxic waste. I wonder how seriously we take this matter. Deputy Ellis made the very fair and reasonable comment that there are concerns in many parts of the country that landfill sites are being used for the dumping of toxic waste which should not be dumped in such places. If we were to consider the situation in relation to toxic waste nobody would take more than a day or two to come to the conclusion that without the production of any toxic waste in addition to what we have already in storage, in landfill sites, in backyards or in factories all over the country, there is more than enough toxic waste to keep a vast plant going for years if we were to try to get rid of that waste. But then we have an argument about whether a toxic waste disposal unit is needed.
I must say that I find the current argument about the proposed Mayfield Plant in Derry to be completely unreal. It seems to start off on the basis that there is no problem in the matter of the disposal of toxic waste, that people can sit down comfortably and argue about whether such a plant is needed. The reality is that there is already more than enough toxic waste lying around the country to keep a vast plant going for many years.
It is obvious that we have to reduce the production of toxic waste — that is another day's work; it will take time but there is no doubt that it has to be done. However, in the meantime it is idle, dishonest even, to pretend that all of the toxic wastes produced in different plants in this country can be effectively dealt with on site in the facility in which they are produced. It is mischievous to say that. On this issue I find the Green lobby to be completely unreal. They are saying that toxic waste incineration plants should not be built because that would only encourage people to produce toxic wastes. As I said, that argument ignores the fact that we already have toxic wastes, but it strikes me as being tantamount to saying that we should not train any more doctors because as long as there are doctors people will be encouraged to become ill. Such an attitude is not "green"; it is burying one's head in the sand.
Some of that argument was heard in the House yesterday at Question Time when the Minister for the Environment was doing his usual soft-shoe shuffle around the issue and not giving any answers. He has issued invitations to tender for the provision of a toxic waste incineration plant, but he has not said where such a plant will be constructed. That is a burning question, if I may be pardoned the pun. He has not said where the plant will be sited. I wonder what is in the Minister's mind on this issue. I do not know whether the Minister of State can tell us about that, sometimes I wonder whether she really agrees with her Minister or whether we will hear her on the radio next Sunday worrying about this disagreement between herself and the Minister and saying that the Government might fall on that issue next week. If the Minister and the Minister of State are serious about the issue — and I hope to God they are — they will have to give some idea of where such a plant might be situated because for as long as we do not know of their intentions in that regard there will be confusion and suspicion. Such an atmosphere on an issue of this kind is not an atmosphere in which any sensible decisions will be made, because for as long as there is confusion and suspicion and nobody knows where the plant will be situated, everyone will be running out the old NIMBY principle — if it is going to be here, not in my backyard. For as long as such an attitude exists all that we will have in our backyard is more and more toxic waste that could be dealt with by a properly constructed and properly monitored plant. Let us forget the nonsensical argument about transport, because we know for a fact that wherever the plant is situated toxic waste will have to be transported to it. We will not be able to afford, nor will people accept, any attempt to deal with the elimination of toxic waste on site everywhere it is produced. That would not be sensible, economic or even environmentally friendly.
The Bill adopts the principle of aiming for the best available technology not entailing excess cost — the BATNEEC principle, as it is called. I should like to hear the Minister of State tell us why that particular principle underlies this Bill. In my view, it is not self-evident that that is the way we should go. It raises a series of questions. We are supposed to follow the line of adopting the best available technology not entailing excessive cost, but who makes the definitions? Who defines "best"? There could be many arguments about that.
After that, who defines "available"? We may agree on what the best technology is, but we could have endless arguments about whether it is available. We could also have endless arguments about whether it is affordable, which is part of the "available" issue, and that is where the real difficulty starts. Who defines "entailing excessive cost"? What is "excessive cost"? What is excessive cost for an industrial operator, a farmer or a local authority may not be considered by the Minister of State or her departmental advisers to be excessive cost. How would that cost be measured? Would there be a measure that includes the external costs of the investment concerned or the external costs of not adopting what wisdom has decided is the best available technology? I strongly suspect that the principle of the best available technology not entailing excessive cost will be fruitful ground for argument and will be used as a way out by a great many people involved in environmentally unfriendly activities in the years ahead and that there will be endless argument about it. There are some alternatives of course.
There is the best practicable means principle, the subject of some comment recently in a report produced by the United Kingdom Comptroller and Auditor General, National Audit Office, on the control and monitoring of pollution. I found in the report of the inspectors' activities the following:
Determining the best practical means of pollution control has had to take into account financial and commercial consequences as well as environmental factors. Decisions and follow-up in individual cases that is not really relevant to what I am saying. Under the concept of best practicable means implementing necessary pollution controls at individual sites could be deferred over an agreed timescale after taking into account the cost and commercial implications for the industry sector to which the firms concerned belong and provided by any deferment was environmentally acceptable. This approach provided for similar processes in different firms or plant to be authorised to operate in the interim to different emission standards.
That is another possible approach, an alternative to the BATNEEC principle but, seems to me, to suffer from some of the same difficulties because it takes into account financial and commercial consequences as well as environmental factors. For example, what weight does one give to commercial and financial consequences and, on the other hand, what weight does one give to environmental factors? That leads me to the question that, since there are problems with the BATNEEC and BPM principle, why should not we adopt the precautionary principle which is quite simply and what I recommended we should do in the case of the Naas water supply problem and incidents of that kind? Why not assume the worst from the very beginning and act accordingly; assume that any process that comes before one for licensing will produce the worst results of which it is capable; do not license it and continue not to license it until one has a perfectly satisfactory, demonstrable reason for saying: now, that we have all those controls in place, now that they have been agreed, whatever the cost — and let the market decide whether or not the cost is affordable — then, and only then, will we license it. I should like the Minister of State to give us, some of her thinking on that because she has not done so either here or in the Seanad debate. I should like to know why this Bill goes for the BATNEEC principle because it is not self-evident that that is the best way to go in these matters.
We have a great tendency here to clap ourselves on the back for having a grand clean, environmentally pure little country. Perhaps that is because we are an island. Perhaps it is because we are good, God-fearing people as well, although I have my doubts about the whole idea. but we are not. Environmentally there are no islands on this planet. We are all connected up to everywhere else, if not by land then by sea and the sea is quite a good carrier of various problems, pollution and others. There is not any way we can get away from sharing the environment with the rest of this planet. We must examine the situation in global terms, where we have some things to learn. Perhaps, looking at what is happening all around us, there are some indicators as to how strong we should be in the action we take under the provisions of this Bill.
The Minister of State on Tuesday last referred to the position in the European Community. In my view there is nothing of which to be enormously proud in the state of the environment or indeed environmental action within the EC. Nonetheless I would have to recognise that progress has been made. I spent four years of my life working in the Commission in the EC. One of the services with which I was directly involved was that of the environment protection service. The Minister of State will agree with me that it is in recent years only that that service has come to be recognised as anything more than a face-saving adornment along with the consumer protection service and the rest of the Commission services. I am glad to say the Commission have now given it a more central role, that we have a more self-consciously militant environmental policy being urged on us by the Commission. But there is a long way to go.
The Minister made what I believe to be the kind of reference that gets in the way of real discussion here when she spoke about Germany. I should like to quote the relevant passage from her introductory remarks to the House; I will not comment on the English:
Suffice to say that the strongest economy in Europe is Germany and it is no coincidence that the Germans consider strict environmental controls to be an essential ingredient in their continued prosperity.
Of course that is the kind of statement that suits the case the Minister of State was making. But one must ask oneself: is it true; does it really reflect the reality? I do not think it does. What the Minister has said forms a very small part of the picture. Germany is strong industrially, not because today they have strict environmental controls but because, yesterday, they could not have given a damn about environmental controls and built up a position of industrial strength for which they and we are still paying today. I do not know whether the Minister of State has spent much time in Germany but they have serious problems there. As we know, acid rain has devastated forests in Bavaria. There is still serious pollution in the Rhine. There is blight in huge areas in Germany. I do not know whether the Minister of State has ever done so but I would recommend to her either a drive by car through the Ruhr or to fly over it. One can spend a long time driving through the Ruhr and never be out of sight of smoke stacks, cooling towers, electricity transformers or power lines. And Germany is not the only one. Last year I had occasion to travel by train from the Adriatic coast of Italy, across the northern end of the peninsula to the Mediterranean side — all the way, even in the mountains, one finds great gashes of industrial development, and all the paraphernalia that goes with it, that is an insult not only to the built environment but, much more importantly, to the physical environment, the atmosphere and the soil people have to live on.
Take a drive through the Netherlands, as I have done many times, drive say, from Brussels to Amsterdam. Take that trip through the Netherlands when, for most of that journey, one is never out of smelling distance of a chemical plant of some kind. We know that they have major problems with disposal of animal effluent from a highly intensive agriculture. Those are problems that the EC must deal with. In a sense I suppose one can give the negative reflection of those problems when one listens to the Austrians who talk about what they have done to the environment. Their proud boast these days is that the Danube leaves Austria cleaner than it comes in. Probably they are right when they say that. Let us not fool ourselves that the EC, its environment programme and those of its members states are things about which to be congratulating ourselves because they are not. They have only slightly reduced the rate at which they are ruining their environment.
Then one looks at what is happening in Central and Eastern Europe, all part of the same ecological system. I had the opportunity this year to visit both Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Talking to people there about the environment would make one's hair stand on end. They have the most enormous problems, with industrial pollution rampant, with acid rain, again, a major problem. I am told there was a television documentary transmitted here in the past week or two about a town in Romania — where tons and tons of soot and metals land every day, not every year, on the town, one in which everybody has health problems, where life expectancy is considerably less than what is commonplace even in Romania, which is not one of the best places to live on the face of this planet.
Another example was when Russian troops were moving out of East Germany, leaving their bases there, when they found they did not have the equipment necessary to bring back all of the oil they had at their bases. What did they do? They spilled it out onto the ground, leaving a major pollution problem to be dealt with by the people now in charge there. There is a huge amount of work to be done there, a huge amount of environmental damage to be overcome.
Further east we can look at the Soviet economy. We have in our Library a study of the Soviet economy produced by the IMF, the World Bank, the OECD and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. It deals with a series of investigations into environmental problems in the Soviet Union. God knows how many pieces the Soviet Union is about to break into. For some time they have had state of the environment reports. The 1988 state of the environment report identifies 290 ranges of severe ecological conditions, covering 3.7 million square kilometers — one-sixth of the total land area of the Soviet Union or ten times the size of a unified Germany. They occur all over the place. There are 33 of them in western Siberia, 28 in eastern Siberia and 22 in the north European section of the Soviet Union. We usually associate eastern Siberia with tundra, spruce forests and plains, yet there are 28 ranges of severe ecological conditions within that area. The 1988 report indicates that about 62 million tonnes of primary pollutants are emitted annually into the atmosphere from industrial facilities and another six million tonnes from mobile sources. It does not take long for all that to work its way around the globe and into the atmosphere of our grand, green little island. The effects on humans cover a range which is frightening. Two-thirds of sourced water in the Soviet Union does not meet existing standards — and we think we have a problem in Naas. Underground water supplies are seriously polluted and in 600 cities sewage water is not purified in a satisfactory manner.
A section in the report deals with life expectancy in parts of the Soviet Union. In some parts life expectancy is not more than two-thirds and in some cases not more than half that common in OECD countries. We may say that this is a problem for people in central and eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union but it will end up on our plate sooner or later, not just because we have rightly taken it upon ourselves to assist in the development of those economies but because the effects of pollution like that spread. If they are churning out 36 million tonnes of primary pollutant into the atmosphere and they continue to do so, it will affect us. It is part of our environment too.
Other dramatic changes have taken place in the Soviet Union. The Aral Sea today is much less extensive than it used to be. Some time last year I saw photographs of fishing and trading vessels stranded on salt pans where there used to be fairly deep water in the Aral Sea. It is drying up because water is being drawn off and pollutants are being pumped in. Lake Baikal, once one of the wonders of nature, is suffering from Europhication. Nobody seems to have any confidence that this problem can be properly dealt with. Deputy Ellis spoke earlier about using more hydro-electric power because it is environmentally friendly. I invite him to visit the Soviet Union where major hydro-electric power stations have destroyed the environment in a number of areas. They were part of the inspiration for one of the maddest and most gradiose projects ever conceived, namely to divert the north-flowing rivers of eastern Siberia to make them flow south and to build hydro-electric stations on them and irrigate the land. Those projects have had a deleterious effect on the environment. Happily some of the bigger ones have been cancelled in recent years because the resources were not available to carry them out.
The Soviet Union is not the only country creating major difficulties with rivers. A whole species of salmon is about to disappear in the north west United States due to exactly the same kind of river management programmes.
I read during the past year the work of an American naturalist who wrote a series of four books about a journey across the United States at each of the seasons of the year. One particularly fascinating book gives an account of a trip from the east coast to the west coast during the autumn in the late fifties. I would love to find somebody to finance him to do the same trip today and to tell us how the environment compares with that of the late fifties. Wilderness areas in all countries are becoming less and less wild. They are being polluted and affected by our failure to do the kind of things this Bill sets out to do in a fairly modest way.
What kind of development model have we for the rest of the world? It is part of the same environment that we live in. We are pushing western development models on the Third World. What are the likely consequences of that? What will those development models do to the environment not only of the Third World but to our environment? They can only have catastrophic effects. There is a large volume of literature on this topic. The Minister might be familiar with the well known book, The End of Nature by Bill McKibbon. It has become a kind of cult book in that people who read it and talked about it have become freaks. It presents the arguments in such a simple way that it is difficult to argue against them. It is the kind of thing that is pushed to the sidelines and characterised as a prophecy of doom because we all know that human ingenuity will save us. Will it? He makes the point that in 1985 40 per cent of the population of the western industrial countries were car owners. At that time 1 per cent of the population of the Third World owned a car.
What would be the consequences of bringing levels of car ownership in the Third World even to 1985 levels in the west? That is a part of their aspiration, part of the development model we constantly urge on them. If by the year 2025 energy consumption in the rest of the world reaches current western levels, we will have increased the energy load on the environment by five and a half times. Even today the energy load is proving to be unsustainable. We are all getting the collywobbles about fridges and CFCs. What would happen, for example, if the level of fridge ownership per thousand households in China alone was to reach the level it is today in Western countries? There would be a huge expansion in CFC emissions and a huge multiplication of the problems of which we are now becoming aware.
I want to pose another question. One of the first things a Chinese industrial family do when they get a bit of money is to buy a transistor radio. Radios are rather expensive in China but every family wants to have one. They measure part of their progress by their acquisition of these kinds of consumer capital goods, brown goods. What will happen to all the batteries used in those radios if the rate of transistor radio ownership per family in China even reaches the point we were at in the sixties? This is a huge potential new source of pollution, not to speak of the pollution which will come from the waste products involved in producing those batteries in the first place.
Can we in conscience say to the Third World that they must not follow that development model because it is bad for the world environment when they know perfectly well that we have got to our present state of material comfort with that model? I do not think we can. We cannot preach anything to them unless we clean up our own house first.
It has been well remarked that we are hooked on fossil fuels, which is part of our problem. The current edition of The OECD Observer has some very interesting things to say about the degree to which we are dependent on fossil fuels. We are making some progress but this is very slow. It points out in an article entitled “Energy, the Environment and the Drive for Efficiency” that the IEA countries, that is the 24 members of the OECD minus Finland, France and Iceland, have been successful in reducing the amount of energy required to produce goods and services, thus limiting carbon dioxide emissions, not least because of a reduction in the share in the total primary energy supply of carbon based fuels. It continues:
Indeed without the 25% decline in energy intensity which has occurred since 1973, IEA countries would have emitted about 19% more carbon than they did in 1988.
The article goes on to talk about the potential effects of future developments on energy use. The curious part of the article is that it says that even though we have become more energy efficient in given operations, our culture still tends towards using more energy. It continues:
Structural change in road transport and in residential and commercial building has tended to offset these reductions. In construction, for example, the trend towards smaller families has increased floor space per capita and, as a result, energy consumption. And in the office the increased use of air conditioning has tended to increase intensity. Electrical appliances, too, are more widely used. In road transport there have been massive increases in traffic, outweighing improvements in the fuel efficiency of individual vehicles, and recent trends towards larger and more powerful vehicles have offset earlier improvements in fuels economy.
In the IEA countries which, by and large are all Western industrialised countries, there have been improvements in energy efficiency. While on the one hand we are becoming less energy intensive per unit of output, on the other we are becoming more energy using because we are living and acting in ways which give us more opportunities or create more situations where we use energy. Even if we are doing well, we might be standing still.
The really hair raising implication of this is that if we push on Third World countries Western development models we may make them less energy intensive per unit of GNP. We will also be pushing on them a culture which will give them more and more reasons to use energy in different ways so that the kind of energy intensity we have today is something they will aspire to in the future and we will have to deal with all of the results of that on our environment, atmosphere and the soil under our feet.
There is a great deal more at stake for us than the maintenance of this green clean little island of ours because we will also be affected by what goes on in the Third World, by how much energy they use and the increased emissions they put as a result into the atmosphere. That scenario for the future underlines the fact that we are very late at national level in getting to grips with this problem. There is a great deal more I could say but the literature on this subject is abundant and I am sure the Minister of State has it all at her disposal.
We congratulate ourselves on not having any nuclear power stations in Ireland. I honestly believe that is one aspect on which we should congratulate ourselves. It is dreadful to contemplate that every time a nuclear reactor is commissioned we set off what is literally a time bomb which will tick away not for hundreds of years but thousands of years. Of course, we do not see the whole picture. Every time we manufacture a medical tool which uses radiation for measurement or any other reason we set off another little time bomb which will also tick away for quite a long time. Every time we manufacture and commission a new very sensitive high technology state of the art industrial measuring device that uses radiation we set off another one of those little time bombs. Every time we commission a new machine, as we hope to do more of, to help cure people of some forms of cancer we set off another little time bomb which will be around for thousands of years. I am not talking about nuclear submarines which travel to the bottom of the sea in the Arctic; I am talking about machines we use day in and day out which are little time bombs and which remain time bombs long after they have come to the end of their useful life.
We have to do something about these little time bombs. We have to find ways of rendering them less dangerous. We have to reprocess them and the nuclear fuel. What do we do when we have nuclear fuel to reprocess? We pack it up in containers which protect the public and ship it to Sellafield, the place we all love to hate and which we all demand the closure of. Yet we send our nuclear waste to be reprocessed at that plant because it is the nearest and most convenient reprocessing plant to us.
It is long past the time we began to discuss the real issue and real effect of the Sellafield reprocessing plant on us. It is time Members of this House stopped trying to con the Irish public into the naïve belief that if we shout loud enough this plant will be closed down. To tell the House the God's honest truth, while I have a certain feeling of congratulation for the Minister for Energy, I also like to see him wriggle because when he was a Fianna Fáil Opposition Deputy he came into this House and claimed that there was absolutely no difficulty in finding perfectly unassailable legal grounds for the Irish Government to demand the immediate closure of Sellafield.
He is now the Minister in this Government who has to tell the Irish public that he cannot find a compelling reason, a sufficient legal armlock to put on the British Government, to make them close down Sellafield. He says it as infrequently as he can manage to get away with saying it. It is a pity we do not have more of the truth about that whole issue, not alone the political truth here but the economic truth over there. I do not know what the opponents of Sellafield think about it. There are people on this side of the House who still perpetuate the myth that in some way we can engineer a situation — if that is the right word — where Sellafield will be closed down. I do not know what they will do about the rest of the problems.
About two years ago we began to have serious fears here about what was then adumbrated as a proposal in the UK to deal with the nuclear reactors from decommissioned nuclear submarines. We got very annoyed, and quite rightly, about an idea that they were supposed to be considering, which was to encase the offending bits of these nuclear submarines in concrete or some other material and dump them in a trench some few hundred miles to the southwest of Ireland in the Atlantic. We said: "No, you cannot do that" and we were right. Then there was a proposal that they would use old used-up coalmines in the northern part of England to bury nuclear waste that could not be reprocessed any further. Quite rightly and understandably the people who lived over those coalmines objected strongly. The deus ex machina was a proposal to dig deep tunnels under the Irish Sea to store all this material and we objected to that and said: “If this stuff is too dangerous for your people to accept on your territory, there is no way we are going to have it under the Irish Sea where it will do us damage.” That is an illustration of the difficulty we face. We do not want to see them getting rid of bits of decommissioned nuclear submarines southwest of us in the Atlantic, we do not want to see them burying it under the Irish Sea and the British do not want to see them burying it in old coalmines in the UK. What happens? All this stuff is still sitting somewhere above ground — as safe as it can be made — and nothing new is being done with it. At the same time we are sitting here with our smug satisfaction that we do not have any nuclear problem here, quietly exporting our material for reprocessing to Seallafield and we are saying, close down Sellafield. What is the logic of it? Is that the NIMBY principle? Are we going to say to them: “Close down Sellafield” and convince the French that they should have this operation on their territory and hive off the problem in that way? Are we saying that Seallafield should be closed down and that we should convince the Czechs, who have not woken up to this problem yet, that they should have the operation on their ground? I know we will not say to them: “Close down Sellafield and remove the whole operation to somewhere beside Chernobyl” so that they can do with the reprocessing plant what they did with a power station in Chernobyl.
The fact is, whether we like to or not, we are part of the system — although only a small part — and we need nuclear reprocessing plants. It is about time we started talking about dealing with that problem rather than fooling ourselves into the stupid belief and the anti-environmental belief that we can close down the only one that is near to us without something else being done to replace the activity and the facility it can offer to the rest of the world. In all conscience we have little authority to lecture or to give out to the rest of the world until we have decided what we are going to do about the waste we can process here, or, are we going to keep on making the argument that any toxic waste produced in Ireland has to be sent away, not just out of our lttle green Republic but off our island and even away from the neighbouring island, because it is too close to us? Those are the issues we should be dealing with in relation to the environment, but we are not going to deal with them by the kind of sanctimonious claptrap that has passed for arguments about Sellafield and toxic waste disposal in Ireland for the last five or six years.
I said earlier there were proposals in Fine Gael's 1989 Bill, brought forward by Deputy Shatter, that are not in this Bill. I would like to mention a few. We proposed that the chairman and the board of the Environmental Protection Agency be appointed by the Dáil with a procedure similar to that used for the appointment of the Ombudsman so that we could have proper parliamentary involvement in what is going to be a key area of our national life in future. That is not in this Bill and it is all the weaker for it. I have not heard any argument from the Minister of State as to why she proposes to do it her way rather than the way we proposed. I would think — although maybe after the events of last week where nothing was discussed in the Dáil — the Minister of State and her Minister would prefer things not to be discussed in here; personally, as a Member of this House I think these things should be discussed here and the Dáil should be involved in making as many of those decisions as it can be.
We provided for a Dáil committee on the environment which would provide this House with the means of keeping itself informed on environmental issues on what is being done and what progress is being made to deal with those problems. I think, Sir, it is important that we should do that, because although there may be scribes — not present at the moment — who write about us in disparaging tones from time to time, one of whom said the other day he thought there was only about a quarter of us worth keeping, there is not even a quarter of them there, so that is a comment on themselves. Whatever we may think, people listen to what Members of this House say with varying degrees of scepticism. If we are not properly informed in this House about the key issues of our environment and of preventing any further deterioration of our environment I do not think we will be able to do our job properly. That was the reason we proposed in our Bill an environment committee of this House. I would have thought that a Minister of State who belongs to a party that belongs to a Government that says they want to see Dáil reform should agree with us on that point.
It is pernicious that people in this House who are listened to by the general public do not have under the provisions of this Bill any lever, any window into the argument about what is happening to our environment or any influence in what public policy is going to do apart from the passing of an Act. They have very little else because this Bill provides for reports to be made at three yearly or five yearly intervals so that this House will not be able to discuss reports on a regular basis that would get us plugged into the debate and the effort that has to be made on our environment.
We proposed greater access for the Environmental Protection Agency to documents and records of Departments and State agencies. That is not contained in this Bill. That will constitute a very serious limitation on the scope of the action that the agency will be able to take. We also provided for a supervisory role for the Environmental Protection Agency over the operations of Government and State agencies in the environment area. That too is not in this Bill. That is a very serious lack because there is absolutely no reason whatever, in logic or in commonsense, that public agencies, the State, local authorities, semi-State bodies should not be subject to the same public controls and publicly accountable controls over their activities as private operators. In some cases we have reason to believe it is even more urgent in the case of some State agencies than in relation to private operators.
In Deputy Shatter's Bill we provided for control or stop orders with an appeal mechanism; but there is nothing of that kind in this Bill. The reason we made those provisions was to allow the agency to take immediate action when a problem arose rather than having to wait for all the procedures to be gone through, and the problem worsened, before any action could be taken to remedy it. There is no reference in this Bill to pesticides. That is an area of major concern in relation to the environment which should properly be brought in. We have air pollution and water pollution in this and we should have specific reference to pesticides. Pesticides are one of the elements that cause serious environmental problems.
The Minister of State, towards the end of her speech on Tuesday, talked about sustainable development. She said:
This Government are committed to sustainable economic development. Essentially, that means that in the pursuit of economic development to meet the needs for the present generation we must not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs. I have no doubt that the greatest legacy that we can leave to future generations is a clean, unspoiled environment because that is our single most important natural resource.
Bravo, we all agree with that. I compliment the Minister on the beautiful phraseology she used, but what does it mean? What is "sustainable economic development"? Could the Minister of State give us any concept of what is the "sustainable economic development" to which the Government are committed? Does it mean that there are some kinds of industry that we will not have, that there are some kinds of costs that are not too great for us to incur for the sake of our environment? Does it mean that we want to see an economy that stops adding polluting materials to our environment, not that observes the standards we lay down for additions?
Environment control legislation as we have known it up to now is based on the proposition that one can pollute the environment as long as one does it according to the rules, the criteria and the specifications laid down in the law. We are not stopping pollution. We are guiding it, we are controlling it, but we are not stopping it. The proper concept of sustainable economic development is economic development that does not add any more to the pollution of our environment. That is a very different concept from what is in the Bill — the best available technology not entailing excessive costs. That is not necessarily sustainable economic development. It may be economic development that can carry on for a bit longer than uncontrolled pollution, but in the long term it is not sustainable economic development. I would like the Minister of State to tell us what she has in mind by sustainable economic development and to tell us how long she thinks that kind of economic development she has in mind could be sustained.
We are not without advice from our own resources on this Bill. The Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities produced its report No. 6, dated 5 December last year, entitled Aspects of EC Environment Policy and it produced eight recommendations. The first was that
The provisions of the Directive on freedom of access to environmental legislation should be transposed into national law as soon as possible.
I am not at all convinced that the provisions on public information in this Bill meet that requirement and there is a question that there are limits to public access to information on this Bill. The Minister of State has not explained satisfactorily why the limits there are contained in this Bill.
Recommendation No. II says:
Information available to the public under the provisions of the Directive should be supplemented by authoritative assessments of risk in environmentally-sensitive areas.
I do not think that that is provided for in this Bill. I do not find in this Bill even what seems to me to be the minimum step of putting public authorities of all kinds automatically under an obligation to produce an environment impact statement on the plans they have. They are not obliged to do that under the terms of this Bill and I cannot see any reason why they should not be obliged. I am not insulting anybody when I say that any county council, any corporation or the Office of Public Works are just as capable of polluting the environment as any private operator and need the supervision of a dispassionate objective State agency just as much as anybody else. Nowhere have we seen that more clearly than in the recent argument about the Mullaghmore Interpretative Centre to which my friend and colleague, Deputy Carey, referred earlier this morning. A lot of energy has been wasted in discussions about that when it was obvious from the beginning that one of the things needed in order to allow both sides of the argument to make any sense of it was an environment impact statement. We are going to have that, not because the Minister of State at the Office of Public Works reclining up there, volunteered to have it——