I welcome the Minister of State to the House. We regret she was delayed for a very considerable length of time.
Expression of Sympathy. - Environmental Protection Agency Bill, 1990: Second Stage (Resumed).
May I apologise to the Minister for the undue delay experienced here this afternoon and would like to point out that many of the items raised on the Order of Business should not have been taken. It was an insult to her. I apologise on behalf of this side of the House for the undue delay she experienced. It seems rather ironic that people would look for an extension of time to debate this topic yet these very same people use the time during the Order of Business to delay the proceedings of the House and to cut down on the extra time they are seeking.
I spoke at some length the last occasion we looked at this Bill. I do not propose to go back over trodden ground. Instead, I would like to mention a number of items I raised by way of emphasis today. First, there is the issue of the county development plan versus the IDA and the location of industry. I made the point the last night that every county council and city authority have a development plan on a five-year basis. Generally speaking, they decide where industrial development should be sited and the suitability in regard to the different types of industry.
In the past because of the fact that the IDA may have a land bank which is not located within this particular development plan, or which is not earmarked for a certain type of industry, try to locate an industry, such as Merrill Dow in Killeagh thereby causing all sorts of difficulties. Does the Minister see any role for the agency with regard to suitability of site and endorsement of development plans prior to the siting of industry? Perhaps when the Minister is replying she might advert to that difficulty.
I also mentioned the last night recruitment and the fact that obviously staff will be transferred from An Foras Forbartha and other Departments and that some staff members will be identified with the local authorities. I expressed my concern about the word "identify" in that there seemed to be some element of coercion in that. Perhaps on Committee Stage the Minister would look at that work. I also raised the issue of staff and the fact that we are decentralising the Environment Protection Agency. We all welcome that. In decentralising that agency there is the suggestion of coercion particularly of members of what was formerly An Foras Forbartha and perhaps taking them to various different parts of the country out of Dublin. How happy will they be with that situation? How happy, for instance, will be the members of local authorities who will be asked to join the new agency?
I also raised the issue of salaries and the fact that the salary of some people with An Foras Forbartha would be much better than that of people in local authorities. Perhaps the Minister would also have a look at this area. I mentioned that perhaps it would be better when setting up an agency to have direct recruitment and thereby having a direct commitment to the agency from day one than having people seconded to the agency who are not totally committed to it.
One of the things that causes me concern in an otherwise fine Bill is the interaction between local authorities and the Environment Protection Agency. One of the areas where this seems clearly at variance is that the local authority have control over the agricultural land. It would appear that the agency will be given control over monitoring the rivers and lakes. I pointed out that many of the difficulties and the pollution that arises in rivers and lakes emanates from agriculture. I suggested that perhaps the Minister would have another look at that and if she is giving the agricultural side of it to the local authority perhaps the monitoring of lakes and rivers would also be left with the local authority with the agency still maintaining a co-ordinating role in that respect.
I also raised at some length the possibility that when seeking planning permission under an EC directive, particularly for the pharmaceutical industry, that there is an EC requirement that we would have an environmental impact study. A local authority, the planning authority, are required by law to give planning permission based on good planning and also based on an environmental impact study being submitted with it. While I understand the impact study will have to be given to the agency for comment I can envisage a situation where a local authority could give planning permission to an industrial project while the agency may refuse to grant a licence. To get over that situation I ask the Minister again to see if we could have a much better co-ordinating role between the two. It does not seem to be as clear-cut as it could be.
Following on from that, might I question the role of An Bord Pleanála when it comes to appeals, given the emergence of the EPA. Everyone here will agree that with all future pharmaceutical planning applications there will be a demand for an oral hearing? If we look at the past record of oral hearings in this regard, we will see that they concentrated mostly on the impact the planning would have on the environment. Under the EPA, we have the licensing taken away from the local authority. Can the Minister see a meaningful role for An Bord Pleanála, given that this fact has emerged?
There could be a situation where somebody demands an oral hearing and that is granted by An Bord Pleanála. The industrial promoters come before An Bord Pleanála, they present their case and they have to have their environmental people there to argue why the planning permission should be granted. On the other side of it, the EPA may grant an oral hearing. There is a possibility that we will, on the one hand, have an oral hearing with An Bord Pleanála and another with the EPA. That would defeat the purpose for which the EPA are to be set up and certainly the co-ordinating role that the Minister envisages for it. Could the Minister ensure that if an oral hearing is to be held that hearing and the Bord Pleanála oral hearing will be held simultaneously? With 220,000 unemployed the last thing we want is projects held up for 18 months or two years. The faster we can get these off the ground the better all of us would like it.
May I digress for a moment and take up the question of appeals with an Bord Pleanála? In the recent past there have been delays of up to ten months before final decisions were taken on appeals. However, there has been an improvement, thanks to the Minister of State and the Minister for the Environment in ensuring that the staff in An Bord Pleanála has been increased and that there is a greater awareness of the fact that appeal decisions should come out more rapidly. Is it possible to categorise some of the planning appeals coming before An Bord Pleanála at present? I suggest they could be put into three categories, private appeals for private homes and the commercial and the industrial appeals. In regard to the industrial side, to improve the take off of industry and employment creation, is it possible that the Minister would consider requiring An Bord Pleanála to make decisions on such appeals within a three month period? After all, if the local authority are required to make a decision within two months is it too much to ask an Bord Pleanála to make a decision on an industrial appeal within a three month period?
I would also like to use the occasion to welcome the setting up of proper regulations and standards pertaining to environmental impact studies for projects covered under the EC directive, I have no doubt that standards, regulations and applications have varied between different local authorities. There is even a suggestion that conditions were less stringent under some local authorities than they were in others. There is every likelihood that the promoters of some of the projects were well aware of this and used it to their own benefit in the past, thereby leaving us with certain environmental problems that cause difficulty for other local authorities who were doing the job properly.
I welcome section 104 and I admit that it was extremely difficult for a local authority up to now to get a conviction relating to noise pollution, given the fact that the local authority had to prove nuisance. The new Bill brings noise within all-embracing legislation which will make it easier to prosecute, given the specification of levels so that if a party exceed certain decible levels that party will be subject to the rigours of the law. That is a very welcome addition.
I will dwell for a minute on the open door approach in section 64. The open door approach is certainly very welcome to the public and I must say is welcome to industry as well. Let me use this opportunity to endorse the stand taken by the Sandoz Company, who are now going ahead with a project in Cork, on being the very first to open their doors and to show others how it can be done, how you can bring the people with you rather than have the veil of secrecy that applied in the not-too-distant past. I ask the Minister to consider the frequency of the availability of such reports. Will they be weekly, monthly, or quarterly?
In making this point, I am genuinely conscious of the possibility of people crawling all over the agency office looking for information on monitoring. There must be the suggestion that we will have an implication of increased costs here in making such information available. Obviously, the more frequently you make it available the more staff will be required as a back-up and the whole process will become more costly. I do not think that that is the idea behind the Bill. The Minister will recall, with a wry smile, that when this agency was first mooted £500,000 was suggested as being available to set it up, whereas now that provision has grown to £8 million. I pose the question: can it be held at that figure if we are to immerse the agency in bureaucracy, being mindful also of the capital and operational costs that will accrue? Operational costs do not come into play with a local authority in that these costs are already being paid for; there is no increase in staff. If you go down the road of having a completely open door and having material and monitoring results available at a whim then, in my view, an extreme danger of escalating costs will ensue.
I would also like, under this section on an open door policy, to raise the question of the company's right of confidentiality in respect of processes and the danger of making sensitive information available to competitors. Up to now companies have told us that the veil of secrecy existed to prevent competitors getting information that could be detrimental to the original company in the long run. I go along with the Minister that that was a handy cop out but I think that there is a level to which we can ascend or descend with regard to making information available before we impinge on the rights of companies. I would ask the Minister in her reply to advert to my question in this regard. In this section I would also ask the Minister if the agency have any regard to the application of the sub judice rule? I am aware that certain local authorities in making submissions to the Minister were very conscious of difficulties that might arise under the sub judice rule and are certainly very anxious to have that included in the Bill.
Under section 59 we come to landfill sites. Here again we see that the performance of the local authority will be dictated by the agency. I welcome that. I see inherent dangers here again, for costs. If we are going to make demands on the local authority to reach a specific standard, that standard will cost money. It is estimated that disposal costs at present are roughly about £2 per tonne. If stringent regulations are brought in it was suggested to me the burden could be £5 or £6 per tonne. This would place a fairly heavy burden on the local authority and would certainly place an enormous burden on some private operators who are helping local authorities, in many areas, to provide a service which has not been available hitherto.
Dealing also with costs, we will have a look at secondary treatment. Every one of us welcomes the fact that the Government are prepared to spend £1,000 million on the provision of plants. That is as it should be, and it is not before time, because it is now held that many local authorities were the greatest polluters of all. They in turn would maintain that they were polluters because they could not get enough funding from central authority to tackle the problem. There is now a very positive move in that regard.
It is fine to provide money for the setting up of these secondary treatment plants but nothing has been said about providing funding for the operation of these plants by local authorities. Will more finance be made available to local authorities from Central Exchequer? Will some type of levy be placed on households to meet the extra costs that will accrue to local authorities, or will we have to increase substantially the costs to the householder in those particular areas where service charges are operational.
Before I leave landfill sites I would also like to advert to the fact that landfill sites are a major headache to any local authority. There is no greater headache than the Cork city landfill site at present. It can be claimed, justifiably, that the operation of that site may not have been what it should have been. We now have a situation that is out of control and we have a section 4 on that particular landfill site, a landfill site which would certainly have met the city's refuse requirements for the next ten to 20 years. We have a section 4 asking that it would continue in operation for five years only. The question has to be asked if that landfill site closes down whether the people in The Mahon in Cork the people in Gurranebraher in Cork, or in some other part of the city, will have to accept the landfill site? We know the problems that ensue with people in trying to place one of these sites.
Perhaps the Minister — I know that is something that is close to her heart — as an alternative to the major concentration on landfill sites, should look at various options in the future. The landfill site is an option that is going to stay with us. There are certainly two other areas that are well worth looking at. I would draw the Minister's attention — and I know she is very well aware of it — to an anaerobic digester which is a pilot project operating in Ballincollig at present and the results of which indicate that it is going to be tremendously successful in the digestion of raw sewage. I refer to output from factories like Pfizers and particularly to offal which, as you know, has been dumped in various fields around this counry without any control at all. The ironic thing is that Cork County Council, given the success of the project to date, are quite happy that it can be a success but obviously they are looking for money to pursue a feasibility study. Why I say it is ironic is that they have got £50,000 directly form the EC to fund that pilot project yet the Department of the Environment to date have failed to come up with any funding for that feasibility study. I would ask the Minister as a matter of urgency to look at this project as it would appear to offer great prospects for the future. I would also ask her to look at the issue of incineration. While it is expensive, it is something that does not have the emotional impact that landfill sites seem to have. Perhaps in dealing with the agency she would emphasise to them the importance of looking at other alternatives to landfill sites.
I would like to refer to the word "accreditation" and to remind the Minister again that accreditation from the Irish Laboratory Accreditation Board is recognised in Europe. Some local authorities have their laboratories accredited at this stage or are on the verge of accreditation. I understand that traceability, accountability and reliability go hand-in-hand with accreditation. May I ask the Minister if it is the intention of the agency to acquire accreditation under the Irish Laboratory Accreditation Board for its laboratories because if it is, that will involve it in extremely expensive processes.
Given the fact that there is a provision in the Bill for use of the facilities of local authorities by the agency the likelihood is that the agency will look to those local authorities that have accredited laboratories. Can the Minister envisage a situation where some local authorities would be bogged down with monitoring work and laboratory work on behalf of the agency to the detriment of some of the other work that would come under their ambit? How would the Minister envisage that this difficulty might be overcome?
There are two other points I would like to make to the Minister. Section 60 states: "the local authority will be directed to carry out the functions in question but only if the local authority has the necessary funds." Some people will say that this is a cop-out and that it gives an opportunity to the local authority to avoid spending fairly sizeable sums of money. In regard to that and in view of this condition in relation to availability of funds, is it the intention of the Minister that the agency would make a suggestion to the Department of the Environment concerning what the agency would consider to be priority projects and requesting that those priority projects would have funding made available to them? It is hardly worthwhile having an agency make a suggestion to a local authority that something should be done if the local authority can say to the agency that they would love to do it and that it is very desirable to do it but that the money has not been made available. I am wondering if there is any way the agency could have some format by which it could suggest to the Department the order of priority in which projects should come onstream.
There is one final point I would like the Minister to refer to when replying. Vegetable processing appears to have been left out of the ambit of the agency whereas sugar beet comes within its ambit. My understanding is that there is a fair level of BOD emissions from food processing plants. It seems sensible that if sugar beet is put under the ambit of the agency that food processing should be under it as well.
I will have other points to make on Committee Stage. It is an extremely important Bill that is going to have major implications for the environmental control of this country for the image of this country abroad regarding the degree of care we have for our environment. Care of the environment should also lead to job creation. While I may seem to have been critical on a number of issues, I would like to emphasise that I am looking for direction rather than fault-finding. I am trying to anticipate problems that may arise because nobody in this House can deny that this Bill sets out the ideals to be attained. There are practical difficulties in the attainment of those ideals. I hope that anything I have said with regard to this Bill will serve to resolve those practical difficulties to enable us to achieve the ideals for which we all strive.
I share the frustration of Senator O'Keeffe at having to wait for such a long time. I suppose the protracted Order of Business mirrors the frustration of Members who submit motions and find after an 18 month period that they are still there and are becoming largely irrelevant. I would not accept that the interruptions should be tolerated to the degree to which they are tolerated. I am glad that the Minister is still with us.
Like the Senators who spoke last week and today, I welcome this long-awaited Environmental Protection Agency Bill and I commend the Minister for her vigour and tenacity in pursuing the measures and objectives set out for the protection of our environment. We are very quick to promote our country as a country with a fresh environment and ideally suited to agriculture and to food production. Our community, however, remains ambivalent in its attitude to pollution. We tend to regard pollution as somebody else's responsibility. Although we have a Litter Act and substantial fines for contravening its laws, one does not notice any great improvement in our cities, towns and countryside.
As a teacher, I have seen programme after programme of environmental studies on the curriculum at primary level and second level but those programmes have not yet influenced all our young people to be more aware, more vigilant and more responsible in relation to our environment. It is a matter I find extraordinary difficult to unravel after many years. Twenty years ago students were far more protective of our environment with little or no education at that level on the curriculum. Unlike present-day students who have the advantage of environmental programmes. This is an issue that should be looked at again in the educational system. Why is there a contradiction between what they learn in class and apply within the school grounds and what happens outside? Once they go outside the school grounds they tend to leave their environmental education within the campus.
The Minister in her opening speech two weeks ago referred to the distinction between our environmental situation and that of other EC countries saying: "Heavy industry passed us by leaving us almost alone in Europe with a relatively unspoilt environment". I would say that it was through an accident of colonisation policy that we were by-passed by the industrial revolution and by its ravages which are still to be seen in many major cities in the United Kingdom, in France and Germany, despite heavy funding to erase or remedy those desolate reminders. That accident of colonisation policy has been to our advantage.
Our fresh clean environment is something special and precious and is a strength we must preserve. It is a vital asset to our tourist promotion, to the marketing effort behind our food products from land, sea and water and indeed to our leisure facilities which are of growing importance. All of these attract overseas investment whether in high-tech industry or in the financial services. Therefore, the priority the Minister, and indeed the Government and Opposition parties, is giving to the protection of the environment is very welcome. National, local and EC regulations require that environmental standards should be protected and improved. Political commitment and will is now being put behind those efforts.
Throughout the eighties, public awareness of the threat to the environment and of its possible global repercussions has been aroused regarding the depletion of the ozone layer, the implications of global warming, the destruction of the rain forests and very recently regarding oil spillages and their use as a weapon as we have seen in the Gulf War. In Ireland we have been largely untouched but we know of the scares and the damage caused by Chemobyl and of the debate and controversy over our possible contribution to Europe's acid rain and, of course, we are aware of the smog problem which enveloped our capital until action was taken.
Despite all of this, Fine Gael Oireachtas Members were acutely disappointed by the negative Government reaction to its Private Members' Bill which predated this legislation by over 14 months. We should surely be aware that on environmental matters, delays can be detrimental and it only allows the problems to increase. In reading through the Bill, I am gratified to note that many of the provisions of the Fine Gael Bill have been written into this legislation and that the concerns of other interested bodies have also been given recognition but what arrests our attention is the key issue of the independence of the agency. It is not only the Fine Gael Party who have highlighted the question of the agency's independence; other interested bodies have done likewise. Fine Gael sought a resolution regarding the appointment of a director general for the agency. We are not happy, either, that the Minister for the Environment can change the personnel appointed to the committee by way of order.
There is the question of the structure of the foreign affairs committee. Fine Gael looked for the establishment of an Oireachtas environment committee. That is something the Minister could have taken on board. This would have been a mechanism for making sure that the recommendation of the watchdog agency would be implemented in legislation by Government.
In many parts of the Bill the Minister refers to an integrated approach. This link between the Oireachtas and the agency would have been appropriate and it would fit in with the integrated approach which characterises many aspects of the Bill. In the same vein and in the interests of an integrated approach, it would also have provided for a clean start if our Departments had been obliged to hand over files relating to environmental issues such as those on the operations of the Sellafield reprocessing plant.
Fine Gael's concern also is that there is no provision for appeal against the terms of licences granted under this measure. This concern is shared by many bodies, from the Confederation of Irish Industry to the various environmental groups. If the public does not have that right of appeal they will become extremely frustrated. We have the situation relating to Sandoz as Senator Batt O'Keeffe mentioned. That sense of frustration can become very deep and bitter if people as a group feel that they do not have access to an appeals process. I am not just talking about industry in particular but the general public.
If the Minister does accept that there will be a provision for appeal — this will be debated at length in the next few days — I wonder about the amount of expertise in the agency. This is a good thing but I do not know where the general public could get the expertise they would need in relation to appeals, if all available expertise is already within the agency.
The agency and its powers must instil confidence in those charged with protection of the environment that the job can be done. It should also inspire respect in those it sets out to police. Thus, it is vitally important that the agency should have the power to act quickly and should be seen to do so. In this regard Fine Gael are concerned about the absence of powers for the agency which would enable it to act with control and emergency orders through the courts to prevent or arrest a pollution incident. This is one thing we would have liked to have seen and perhaps the Minister may yet include it.
I share the concerns of other Senators that many sections of this Bill do not become operable without a ministerial order, which means that some actions and measures would have to take their place in the queue on the parliamentary legislation programme. If the queue on the Dáil legislation programme is anything like the queue for motions on our Order Paper, that is certainly something the Minister should look at.
One of the major criticisms levelled at An Bord Pleanála related to the length of time taken for objections to be processed through oral hearings together with the subsequent consideration and decision-making. It is very important that this agency should be able to act quickly.
Now we come to the most vital aspect of the Bill which relates to resources. Resources, of course, are of paramount importance. I refer to the resources made available to the agency and to those provided for those agencies and operations which will come under the orders of the agency. Keeping an eye on the resources of the agency and on other matters is a job which could have been given to an Oireachtas environment committee. Certainly the pressure would be on them to ensure that resources would be provided.
The partnership this new agency will have with local authorities, is very important. There is not a very compatible relationship at the moment between local authorities and the Department of the Environment and I hope this lack of partnership will not be continued between the new agency and local authorities.
In the area of environmental protection and conservation, we tend to perpetuate ambiguity and we add to the dilemma of taking action with the rules and lack of resources of our local authorities. On the one hand, our local councils are planning authorities and they have a responsibility to protect the environment but, on the other hand, our councils are also developmental agencies in their own right and they are striving to provide resources and facilities to attract industry and jobs. Our councils are also responsible for monitoring and protecting our rivers and coastal waters. Yet, many of these very same authorities are the very agencies responsible for discharging raw sewage directly into our rivers, harbours and estuaries.
In one sense a positive effect of the agency's establishment is that the local authorities will now be freer from many of the roles and functions they had regarding the stringent measures needed in order to look after farm pollution but at the end of the day a fine balance is involved. Distinctions and lines will have to be drawn and roles will have to be fully spelled out. A balanced approach is necessary and practical and practicable relationships and operational assistance must be put into place. This new agency will have to grapple, too, with the perception of local authorities as the agents responsible for monitoring and controlling toxic waste emissions by industry. We have to deal with the very cynical public view of the councils, especially in the wake of cases like that of John Hanrahan and the Merck, Sharpe and Dohme Company near Clonmel. There are other cases which tend to underline that limits and standards laid down by authorities may not always be complied with and also underline the shortcomings in our system of policing and enforcing any standards or limits we set out.
As a member of Limerick County Council I am only too familiar with these problems and the difficulties caused through lack of funding, manpower, resources, expertise and technology. I would cite the example of Aughanish Alumina, which is the biggest single industrial investment in this country and it is one which sparked genuine and exaggerated fears of its impact on the environment when it was first mooted back in the seventies. Limerick County Council is the licensing authority for Aughanish. It has open access to the plant and its site to monitor emissions and waste disposal. Aughanish Alumina monitoring equipment is superior to that vailable to the council, with the result that Aughanish largely is relied on to keep its finger on its pulse and to keep records of its own emission standards and levels. Some industries may not be so responsible and environmentally conscious. What is now the system at Aughanish is, to use an analogy, like a driver breathalysing himself or herself and then turning himself or herself in when he or she is over the limit. Perhaps not all industries may be as conscientious as Aughanish Alumina, but it is something that worries me: the lack of resources within local authorities to be able to monitor industries that we have, likely, in this country.
I have mentioned the need for practical balance in the operations of this agency and their powers. This is particularly important. In relation to the competitiveness of industry. We must be fair in striking the right balance between environmental control measures against the real risk to health and the environment and between the economic cost of such controls. The best protections in industry, and those which are least costly, are those installed in advance or worked out in the production processes and operations of the firm. Indeed, firms can save money by saving on waste. This is the policy and attitude which we should be trying to develop — a working relationship with industry in which we show that we understand the problems which firms face and that we want to help them to help themselves. It is very important that the spirit of co-operation is one that is underlined over and over again.
Turning to the matter of integrated licensing, which the new agency will operate, I note that the Bill provides that the best available technologies will be used but will not entail excessive costs. I regard this as reasonable, but I would like the Minister to enlighten us on who will decide on what the best available technologies are and will industry be compelled to adopt the best available technologies.
Section 82 also provides for a two-stage public consultative process in relation to draft integrated licences. This provides for objections and oral hearings if necessary. The public participation and access to the process is important and, hopefully, besides providing a forum and public access to matters about which the community may have concern, this process would also help to allay worries and so speed up the granting of licences and controlled operations by firms or other entities. That is something to be welcomed.
I particularly welcome both section 55 and section 56 under which the agency will provide advice and assistance to local authorities. Senator O'Keeffe raised this matter a few moments ago. If the agency operations reveal that local authority funding and facilities are not up to the task, will the agency then step into the gap or be able to offer appropriate funding? When the agency fix standards of operation for local authority sewage treatment plants and landfill sites, will the resources be available to local authorities to comply with the standards? I am asking if this Bill and the establishment of this agency is simply the will and if lack of funding at local authority or agency level will prevent us finding the way to put that will into action?
In other areas, I would ask the Minister if the word "guidelines" is not too vague in relation to the information to be contained in environmental impact statements? In the interest of establishing a workable relationship between this important new agency and our planning authorities, I hope that the groundwork has already been laid by consultation and liaison between those drawing up this Bill and those involved in the local government reform proposals. I would have presumed that it would have been a major aspect of local government reform. I have not seen the reform proposals but I hope it was worked out in relation to that reform.
I welcome the ECU labelling scheme and I am glad that, for once, we are ahead of EC regulations on product labelling. One particular supermarket, Quinns-worth, are pushing hard on environmental care. I hope that consumer education and awareness will be further advanced and cultivated through information packs and an awareness programme, aimed not just at schools but at all levels of society. Industry, too, can play a major role in this process by having open days for all. Aughanish Alumina are extremely open for a company which works around the clock. They are extremely open to environmental groups, geography associations, teachers, schools and the general public. I would say there is not a day for which they have not planned a tour throughout their company. That, in itself, is a very worthwhile exercise, where the general public can go to industry, are given a briefing session and can see what is being done in the area of pollution. Obviously, that can show that firms have responsible care for society and that they take action when action is needed to be taken. Sometimes through ignorance we can kick and shout against problems without ever having had access to industry to see what steps have been taken by industry. Such tours would surely alleviate the concern of the general public by making them more aware.
We should be looking for greater liasion and co-ordination between the Departments of the Environment and Education in relation to the schools programmes to bring people up-to-date with what is happening. Although I have criticised already the situation whereby there is a tremendous emphasis on environment, perhaps it might be too theoretical; and I think that school visits and the practical application is something that will have a far greater influence on the students rather than something that they read in text books. All it needs is time. As a geography teacher, I found no difficulty in having access to many firms in the mid-west. They were always very encouraging to students, despite problems with insurance. The one thing that the student, whether a first year or a sixth year student, remembered after leaving school was the trip to the factory or the farm. That sort of liaison is something that should be taken up between the Departments.
In looking through the committee that is selecting the director of the agency I am glad to see that two women are included, one the chairperson of the council of An Taisce and the chief executive of the Council for the Status of Women.
That is very much to be welcomed. Despite the negative aspects — I did not wish them to be negative; I wished them to be seen in a positive light by the Minister — we are all very supportive to the Minister in her efforts, not only in safeguarding our environment for a better life, better prospects and developmental potential, but also we are playing our own small but responsible part in shaping a pollution-free planet.
I am not sure whether Johnstown Castle in County Wexford is to be the centre for the agency. It may be on the east coast, and I suppose those of us on the west coast feel that there is always that distinction between east and west, but it is outside the Pale and if it is to be Johnstown Castle in County Wexford I certainly would welcome it as a measure of decentralisation. By and large, we support this Bill. It is a very good one and I hope the Minister will take into account the various points I raised, which I raised from a positive viewpoint and which I think would make the Bill an even better one.
At the outset, I would like to be associated with the remarks which the two previous speakers made to the Minister concerning the unwarranted delay in the Order of Business, whereby the Minister of State had to wait in excess of nearly an hour and a quarter. This is unfortunate, because from time to time we have criticism, particularly from the opposite side, that Ministers are not available in the House. I would like to be associated with the expression of apology to the Minster in this respect.
I would like to compliment the Minister on her great endeavours in bringing this Bill before the House. Indeed, as Chairman of Cork County Concil last year, when Cork was the epicentre of the environmental debate, I am well aware of the interest the Minister took in the Cork area, particularly in relation to the Merrill Dow issue and Sandoz, etc. The Bill is to be welcomed. One apprehension that I had — and I expressed it last year, being a member of a local authority, a member of Cork County Council — was that there was a fear among councillors, and indeed among county managers, that there would be overlapping and a watering down of the powers of the local authority. I am glad to see that the main thrust of the Bill sees a liason with local authorities.
As far as the planning functions are concerned, they are basically being left intact with the local authorities. The new integrated licensing provision will relieve the burden of responsibility on the local authorities, where you had to apply for air pollution licences, water emission licences and so on. There was a serious problem in the Cork area concerning these licences.
I would also like to refute the concept abroad that local authorities are not concerned about the environment. Last year, working in close liaison with the environmetal department of Cork County Concil, spearheaded by Ian Maclean, a noted international expert on the environment, we had to deal with the great concern in the county at large for the environment. The one fear that I and others had in relation to reducing the powers of the local authority has not materialised and I am happy to say that the proposals put forward in this Bill regard a good working relationship with all local authorities as essential.
I suppose the environmental debate in Ireland, commenced in my own home territory when in 1974 the biggest oil spillage ever occurred in Bantry Bay. The local authority and the Government at the time were unable to cope with this problem. It eventually sorted itself out. At that stage I think it created a realisation by the council, by the Government, and indeed internationally, of the serious damage this could do to the area. More recently we heard of the serious oil slick in the Gulf, to a lesser extent that was the situation for several months in Bantry Bay; but, luckily enough, that particular oil spillage was contained. The debate is still going on.
Not too long ago in my home town there was a very well attended meeting at which the fishermen, particularly the mussel fishermen, tourist interests and public representatives came together to try to decide whether the single buoy moorings in Bantry Bay should be allowed. Perhaps this is to a certain extent bordering on the marine side, but certainly we are still dealing with an aspect of the environment that sparked off a big debate. In 1976 An Taisce spearheaded huge opposition to the construction of an oil refinery on Whiddy Island and were successful at that stage in stopping an approach by a large multinational whereby a tourist area, indeed an area with rich fishing grounds, could have been devastated if the island had been overdeveloped along those lines.
I believe that environmentally friendly industries must be welcomed and they can live together. In Cork we have at least several examples throughout the county where pharmaceutical and chemical industries are thriving in the midst of farming communities and in strong tourist locations. I might cite the case of the Eli Lilley factory, which is only a few miles from the very popular town of Kinsale and in the midst of a large farming area. It has thrived there over the last decade or so with not a whimper either from the farmers or the tourists. It is a shining example of how industry can blend in with the farming community and be acceptable at local level. There is also the example of Schering Plough. In addition these two very welcome companies in Cork are creating huge employment. They have succeeded in proving that, with the right approach industry can find a home in this country.
There was a large public outcry, in east Cork particularly but indeed throughout Cork county, which resulted in Merrill Dow eventually pulling out of east Cork. There are different opinions on that. I believe that that industry was a huge loss to this country. I think the wrong reasons were put forward initially to bring about the loss of this industry, put forward by a small group of well-heeled objectors in this area. It might be appropriate that this industry should have been sited in Ringaskiddy. Initially, when Merrill Dow came, one wonders if the IDA were persuaded to site it in Ringaskiddy, which is a huge industrial zone. I believe it is the largest in the country. At any rate I felt — as indeed did the vast majority of the 48 members of Cork County Council, bar two poeple who expressed reservations — that it was a matter that was handled badly and that it was a huge loss to this area. Less than 12 months earlier a similar type industry, set up in the Dublin area without a whimper. On one occasion when a deputation from our council headed by myself met the Minister, Deputy O'Malley, his attitude was that if you tried to site a henhouse in Cork there would be an objection. That is an image of our county that was projected and it is something we must certainly try to ensure is rectified.
In relation to Sandoz, they must be complimented on going ahead with their project despite the fact that currently there are High Court proceedings pending. Sandoz came in. They took the bull by the horns. They met with local interests, council, etc., and they proved beyond reasonable doubt that this industry can be sited in Ringaskiddy without causing any pollution or without causing any fears to the public.
There is a great concern in the Ringaskiddy area about smells in the lower harbour and so on. This is a matter that must be tackled. The council were blamed for being incapable of tackling this, but it is not too long ago since legislation was introduced to enable the local authorities to take action against air pollution offenders. In one particular case, where Cork County Council granted planning permission to an industry in the Ringaskiddy area, certain minimum guidelines for the emission to the air of pollutants were set down but, on appeal by that particular industrial company to An Bord Pleanála, to my amazement the guidelines were totally watered down. An Bord Pleanála failed in that instance to take cognisance of the serious reservations expressed by the council in imposing certain restrictions.
I think that this integrated licence system will neatly combine and co-ordinate the old problem whereby an industry had to go along, first of all, to get a licence for air emissions, water output, sewage, etc. This is a very welcome move and will help industry in their endeavours to set up in this country.
I think the Sandoz company will be one of the major industries to be sited in this country. Work is in progress on that site. As I have said already, despite some opposition and High Court action currently being processed, they are going ahead with this project. Indeed, the whole county welcomes such a development. Whereas certain fears have been expressed by the community in the Ringaskiddy area, I think the setting up of this agency will certainly help to allay the fears of the public.
The truth is that the general public had lost confidence in the local authorities, particularly in Cork County Council. It seemed to be the epicentre of the whole environmental debate over the last two years or so. The public castigated not alone the members of the council but the managers and, indeed, the staff. The environmental development of Cork County Council is probably the strongest in the country. There are 19 full-time staff. I hope some of these staff may be used for employment with the agency and that their expertise will be widely welcomed.
One fear that people had of this agency is that it would be centralised and stand apart from local authorities. I would like to cite one example. About two years ago a pollution problem arose within ten or 12 miles of Cork. The local authority were contacted and within two or three hours Mr. Ian Maclean and his team were on the site taking responsible and proper action. Certainly liaison with the councils is to be encouraged.
I also welcome the very sensible and obvious move to create new offences and proper penalties for offenders. We can categorise these basically into two types of penalties. The summary penalty applies at District Court level where relatively minor offenders face a penalty of £1,000, plus a daily penalty should the offender not rectify the situation. Then at a higher level there is a prosecution by the Director of Public Prosecutions, which may be initiated by the agency, where the penalties are as high as £10 million. This is to be welcomed. Large multinational companies can come in here and from time to time we do get a bad apple. I think that is probably the problem we have in Cork. One or two bad apples spoil the whole image of industry. Now there are huge penalties which can be imposed and all costs incurred in prosecuting these cases will have to be borne by the offending company, or individual, as the case may be.
The previous speaker, Senator Jackman, touched on the question of environmental awareness in schools. I was very happy, in the last four or five months since the new term commenced last September, that at least eight or nine children in my home town wrote to me on a number of matters concerning the environment. The awareness of teachers and children in a classroom was a pleasant surpise to me. They were concerned about many matters. One matter that some of the children raised was the ongoing problem we have along the south coast of pollution from ships. We are on the main shipping lanes coming on to the coastline. This may be going into the realms of the Department of the Marine, but certainly it is an environmental hazard that has to be tackled.
I am aware that a Sea Pollution Bill is due to come before the House. The refuse and rubbish coming in off ships onto our shores — if you walk any of the beaches you will see it — is becoming an increasing problem that has to be tackled. There is one other point I would like to put to the Minister and perhaps she could consider it. Can anything be done about the problem where ships coming into our harbours and onto our shores are literally abandoned? It would be remiss of me not to raise this issue. We had the frightening experience for several weeks in Bantry with the Kowloon Bridge which eventually ended up near Baltimore. The pollution that emanated from that cost the local authority approximately £1 million to clean up. The vessel was abandoned and it is now resting on a rich herring bed some miles off Baltimore. That is just one example which caused a furore at the time. We were unable to handle it. The crew were rescued and the boat with engines running was left on the high seas. It could have ended up anywhere if it had not hit that particular reef and would probably have ended up on the coastline of Waterford. However, we ended up with that problem in Cork.
In the inner harbour of Castletownbere there is a large ship which again was brought on to the coastline deliberately and, in my view, scuttled. It is partly submerged between Bere Island and the mainland and at Castletownbere. Again, this has been there for several years and efforts made to do something about it have failed. Cstletownbere depends on fishing and the islanders coming and going from the mainland and the fishermen have a serious problem with this.
Again one might argue where do you draw the line? Is this the responsibility of the Department of the Marine or whatever? I consider it to be an environmental hazard that we must deal with. If you go along the coastline into my neighbouring county of Kerry you have the famous Ranga which landed on the Dingle Head penninsula on a very scenic beach and the wreck is still there many years later.
This is only the tip of the iceberg because it appears — and I may be wrong — that the shipping companies, if they run into difficulties and have a vessel like the Kowloon Bridge, which is basically a wreck, seem to be able to come into our shoreline and abandon these vessels with little or no redress. As far as I am aware, in none of these instances, which have caused great local concern, has any compensation been provided from the insurance companies involved. I think at the end of the day the Department of the Environment, certainly in relation to the Kowloon Bridge episode, had to foot the bill.
Admittedly, this may be moving slightly out of the realms of the Minister present, but I would like to ask her to look at these matters and possibly liaise with the Department of the Marine to see what, if anything, can be done. In addition to those mentioned, there was a further episode last year when a vessel came into Bantry Bay, owned, luckily enough, by the Shell Oil Company. A huge hole of 50 feet by 80 feet had opened up in the vessel by accident; but, eventually, through liaison with the Departmnent of the Marine, the vessel was repaired and removed from Bantry Bay. One must not forget that in stormy conditions that vessel was there for several months before it was actually repaired and taken out. We feel that in any area — whether it is Cork, Kerry or Wexford — where there is an element of pollution by ships coming on the rocks that is a problem that must be tackled; but so far, in my view, successive Governments have failed in this regard.
The whole concept in this Bill is not before time and I would whole-heartedly welcome the Bill. One fear that I have is in relation to the appeals process. This was touched on by Senator O'Keeffe. One worry the IDA have mentioned to me is that there are so many steps to be gone through when a company apply for planning permission. Initially they apply to the local authority. If you take the case of Merrill Dow, they had to go before an oral hearing. Then there was a High Court action, etc. There are many hurdles to overcome. This legislation does not have the mechanism to deal with what I would call deliberate appeals and deliberate lobbies by small groups who sometimes do not have proper grounds for their objection. Take the case of Merrill Dow, Sandoz or the reopening of the Whiddy Island terminal, a group of ten or 12 people by using the system can hold up for years the issue of planning permission. Maybe the problem lies with An Bord Pleanála. I would complain bitterly about the long delays in An Bord Pleanála issuing decisions on appeals. It is time to tackle this area.
In relation to the issue of licences, an appeal could be made to the High Court if some individual or company was unhappy about air pollution, etc. If that was the case I could envisage a situation where the local authority would grant planning permission and the integrated licence would be granted by the agency but it could subsequently be held up for several months on appeal. At the moment you can appeal a decision of the local authority by lodging £30. Would it not be sensible to consider increasing that, at the discretion of the agency, to £5,000 or £10,000 to ensure that people with frivolous and unreal objections do not impede an industry from setting up in a particular area. That is something that should be considered. This Bill fails to address that problem. Would the Minister like to comment on that?
It is laudable that not only is the new agency involved in liaising with local authorities and advising Ministers and public authorities but it is also involved in setting down codes of practice and various guidelines for industry, etc. This is very sensible. Once the agency is in being, industrialists can go to it and a copy of the codes of practice that apply to similar type industries. That is a sensible and prudent step rather than coming in and feeling their way by trial and error.
I concur with the sentiments expressed by my Cork colleague, Senator O'Keeffe, that this agency should and could be set up in the Cork area. In the environmental debate Cork seems to be the hot potato vis-a-vis industries. We have the technology and expertise in the county and the agency could be properly operated from there. As a public representative from the county I urge the Minister to consider this. It is an appropriate location. The facilities are there and it would be very welcome in the county should the Minister so decide.
I compliment the Minister and the Department for the comprehensive Bill before the House. I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise a few issues on the matter. The Bill is so extensive and covers such ground that a lot of work must have been put into its preparation. I am delighted that at the start of the nineties the Government saw fit to take a fresh look at the environment and brought several measures into being in relation to farm pollution, etc. As this decade progresses, hopefully Ireland will improve in the relatively good clean environment we have and maintain the status quo as far as possible. A German tourist told me last year that in his country you cannot get any river where you can fish salmon or trout. We had a problem in Cork and other counties where pollution by effluent caused serious problems for salmon beds in our rivers. We must create an image abroad that Ireland is green, that our waters are clean and that we have a friendly environment.
I welcome the Minister of State and I apologise for the long delay. We are not usually as late in starting business.
The Minister deserves compliments for her single-mindedness in pursuing a certain number of very clear objectives in this Bill. What she has produced is a Bill I welcome, notwithstanding some reservations, comments and criticisms. I stopped counting the number of sections in which the Minister has to make regulations to bring various sections into force. The legislative process on the Environmental Protection Agency and the issues connected with it will only begin when this legislation has gone through both Houses of the Oireachtas. There will be an enormous number of regulations and orders to be made.
I sincerely hope the Minister will be in a position to see that the same single-minded determination is applied to ensuring that the various welcome provisions of this legislation are implemented quickly. If the agency is set up and properly resourced, it will be a good testimony to the Minister. She will be able to claim it as her own creation to a considerable extent. Hopefully, it will set us on the road not to a concept that I am not too happy with, which is the alleged balance between the environment and economic development, but on the road to the reconciliation of economic development and the environment which does not imply a trade-off of a deterioration in the environment in return for economic development but harmony. Balance implies a trade-off and there is no need for a trade-off between the environment and economic development. There is need for economic development to operate within the constraints under which this planet must operate.
In political and practical terms what this country needs most, and what the city an county where I live need most, is winning and sustaining trust between industry and the local community. There are some ironies about that question that I will return to but it is a fact that there is a profound level of distrust in many parts of the country about both the willingness and the ability of regulatory agencies to take a resolute stand on behalf of the environment. There is a considerable belief that it is in the interests of industry, for instance, to take the short option, the unsafe option or the environmentally risky option, in the pursuit of higher profits. One of the peculiar ironies of the developing environmental consciousness both in the United States and in mainland Europe has been a considerable underlining of the fact that this is not necessarily true. Let me explain why.
The ultimate target must be zero emissions based on zero waste. That may well be a target that will take us a long time to achieve. We must aim at zero emissions of substances which can cause any deterioration of the environment. That is not an easy objective. The irony of the experience of many companies who have been forced to meet higher and higher environmental standards is that it produces a requirement to have a very precise knowledge of what is happening in the process at every step of the way so that there can be a sustainable record of the inventory of the plant and of all of the emissions, not only those that go up the approved stack or through the approved incinerator but all the small leaks, drains etc. In doing that it draws considerable attention to inadequacies in a process, to limitations of efficiencies of a process, to perhaps excessive use of energy-producing environmental hazards or problems that were not noticed. This can often produce considerable improvements in productivity, not just motivated by the extra capital investment environmental protection requires but also motivated by the fact that people have to understand and scrutinise their process in a way they did not before. This is true both of environmental protection and in the related and inseparable area of health and safety of the workforce in the plant and the health and safety of those who live in the vicinity of the plant.
The superficial cheap or smart option of cutting corners on environmental, safety or health issues in return for larger profits demonstrably and frequently produces quite the opposite effect. As has been evidenced in Bhopal, Seveso and in other places, you can get away with these things for a while but the ultimate cost when either the community catch up with you through increasingly rigorous environmental protection or specific accidents land you with enormous bills and damages will be enormous.
The other side of it is that in order to operate to the optimum level of health, safety and environmental concern you actually end up with a much better trained workforce, with a better motivated workforce and with a much more knowledgeable workforce. It is an ironic fact that many of the less than ideally safe practices that were engaged in the tragedy which resulted in the Betelgeuse explosion could have been avoided if that particular place was part of a refinery or something like that because the level of technological know-how, workforce training and supervision would be considerably greater where you have an industry related to it which is run by people who are specialists in the area. That is the opinion of a friend of mine, since deceased, who was a technical adviser at the Betelguese inquiry.
It is important to sort this out because many people end up balancing things that do not actually conflict. The fact that some parts of the world have been polluted on some occasion does not necessarily mean that there has to be some acceptable level of damage in return for industrial growth. It is possible to have growth without causing damage to the environment. It is important to remember that trust in an issue like this is not just getting the public to believe the chemical industry, Environmental Protection Agency or the local authority. It also involves getting the chemical industry, the Environmental Protection Agency, the local authority or the Minister for the Environment to trust the public and disclose considerable information about emissions and risks and the assessment of the relative risks of various options. They must trust the maturity and commonsense of the public to make proper judgments. Trust is not a one-way process.
The experience, as reported to me, of many people in the environmental movement in Cork county with their local authority was something less then total trust. It took the most welcome Cremer and Warner report on the environmental quality of Cork harbour to make available to the many groups concerned with the environment much of the monitoring data that Cork County Council had at their disposal and which they showed a considerable reluctance to make available. It is not the way to persuade people that you are on their side. If it was not commercially confidential when Cremer and Warner did their study, it was not commercially confidential before they did their study. Therefore, it is extremely important that we get beyond the stage of good intentions and on to the area of a very clear acceptance of the right of people to know everything unless there is a profoundly serious reason not to inform them. Everything else must be on the table and must be available.
That is the other side of the equation of trust. That is the way to get people to accept that there is a risk involved in everything. As somebody with whom I was discussing this matter said, if only people would realise it they are probably safer half-way up a platform in a large-scale chemical processing plant than they are at the top of the stairs in their own home in terms of the relative risk of something serious happening to them. The statistics are there. Every young person in our universities who goes to work on a building site here or in Britain will operate in the most hazardous environment for the three or four months of their lives. They will probably be 15 times greater at risk from serious accident or death on a building site then they would be working in a large-scale chemical plant. They would be considerably greater at risk driving their car to and from home to work than they would be working in a chemical plant. That is not an opinion. If you work out the number of serious accidents or fatalities that happen per 1,000 people over a lifespan of 40 years, then the chances of serious accident, injury or death are actually significantly less working in something that is regarded as high risk such as the chemical industry and significantly greater in an area that people regard as a bit messy and dirty and not liable to blow up in your face such as the building industry. The workforce in the building industry are far more at risk. That is not just in this country; it is universal. It has nothing to do with Irish work practices. It is a fact that the construction industry is a good deal more dangerous.
The second thing is to get people to acknowledge that there are acceptable risks that we all take for granted. If I told people that they were driving around in their cars sitting on ten gallons of high explosive material they would be very frightened. In truth, petrol is amongst the most hazardous substances in terms of its explosive limits, in terms of its flammability, which is clearly related to its explosiveness, and in terms of its toxicity. Nobody, who has anything to do with the petroleum refining industry would dream of siphoning petrol out of a car tank not because of anything to do with the morality of it but because they know from their own training how great a health risk it would be even ingesting the vapour or ingesting into their mouths temporarily a few drops of petrol. People will do those things because certain things are taken for granted.
Similarly, people who are worried about the storage of certain substances in a process or in a plant near them will not feel the least bit nervous if they are standing in the middle of O'Connell Street in Dublin, or Patrick Street in Cork, and a large tanker from one of the bottle gas companies goes rumbling past at 30 miles per hour carrying, in an acceptable fashion, something that potentially has the explosive capacity of a fairly medium sized bomb. We accept risks but the only way to get the public to accept the risks involved is to make sure that everything is on the table and to make it clear that you trust people. If information is withheld, delayed, diluted or distorted in the interests of not letting the public know — we are long past the time when you can cod or fool people as they are now extraordinarily well informed about environmental issues — then we will have no hope of winning their trust and confidence.
I am on record as saying that not only would I be happy with Sandoz. However, I would be happy if every other chemical company in Cork county area had to meet the same standards. Many of them do not. Given those standards, I would be happy to have further developments of the chemical industry in the lower harbour. While I live a few miles from the centre, I am actually in a direct line with the prevailing wind of anything that might happen to be released in Ringaskiddy. I am not that far from it and I would have reason to be wary of any significant risks. I am a sort of practising chemical engineer and, therefore, I have no great problem in principle with large or small scale chemical processes but I have a considerable problem with the way it has been done.
An experience I had a couple of years ago with my own profession did not help my belief that the public had reason to be wary. I was asked to write an article on the chemical industry and the environment in Cork for the journal of the Institute of Engineers of Ireland. I wrote an article in which I said effectively what I have just said here, about the need to win public trust and perceptions. It was decided not to publish it because it might offend too many members of the Institute of Engineers of Ireland. The suggestion that there was a problem about perceptions was regarded apparently as profoundly offensive to many collegues in my own profession. If that is offensive we are a long way from winning the sort of trust that we need.
The other area that is important in the winning of trust is that decision-making must, to the greatest possible extent be transparent. I know this has been said over and over again. It is one of the areas of the Bill about which we should have a serious discussion. If one goes through it with care the actual number of rights that the public have to information are not nearly as extensive as the aspirations. There are certain rights but much of what is in this Bill has more to do with enabling the Minister or the agency to the extent that he or it wishes to publish information. On the other hand, there is a categorical right on the part of the agency to determine what is confidential and a categorical and explicit insistence that anything that is determined by the agency on its own criteria to be confidential must be kept confidential. I am unhappy with the balance of rights in both directions. It is important that any agency dealing with the environment must be seen to be independent and must be well resourced.
I have had a number of complaints from people in areas to do with the industry that nobody is quite clear yet about what the agency's budget is. Seven or eight million pounds is the figure mentioned in the press. There are a myriad of provisions for the Minister to transfer functions to the EPA, such as inquiring into major pollution disasters. Such inquiries can be expensive. They have power to force people to give evidence, which is expensive. One would not have much change out of £1 million after some of these inquiries.
The public at large must believe that they know everything about what is going on and what a process is doing. Secondly, they have to know the risks involved. We must accept that there is a risk involved in doing anything. Whether one stays in bed or gets up, there is some sort of risk. There is a risk involved in everything and the risks involved in industrialisation are no more significant than many of the others.
The agency must be transparent and independent. The Minister has done a very good job in ensuring that this agency will be independent and of course it has to be well resourced.
At this stage, having declared my profession, I better declare an interest. I have a considerable interest in the chemical industry. My main profession is involved in the education of chemical engineers to work in the chemical industry. Therefore, in the spirit of this legislation I declare my interest. It is important in terms of public perception and winning public trust to put things in perspective. I will refer to some statistics from the Department of the Marine quoted by Niall Buckley at a conference in Jury's in Cork on 23 January last organised by the FICI on the chemical industry's views on this legislation. He identified sources of fish kills. While fish kills may not in the long term be the most insidious form of pollution they are the most obvious and spectacular and the one that has had a considerable part to play in educating and alerting the public to the concerns of the environment. Forty seven per cent of fish kills, according to the Department of the Marine, are related to agriculture, soil enrichment and water enrichment; 20 per cent are related to local authority treatment of sewage, water and other civil works; 18 per cent are attributed to what are called "other causes". I would be interested to know what they are. It may well be fly tipping. Fifteen per cent is attributed to industry in general. I would love to know what proportion is attributed to the chemical industry which for many people is the number one target in the area if environmental concern. I put those figures on the record not to claim anybody is better than anybody else but to remind ourselves of where our problems lie.
I am not exactly one who could be identified as being a champion of multinationals but there is a view that it is the multinationals among our industries who have caused the greatest problems. Newspaper accounts in recent years of the antics at a certain plant of Kerry Coop when local authority inspectors were endeavouring to look at what was being discharged into a prime fishing river; sounded like a cops and robbers operation. Two officers had to attend at the same time. One was at the gate and the other had to sneak around the back to observe what was being done beside the river while his companion got in to inspect the effluent tanks. It was horrific and it was not a multinational that was involved. It was an indigenous company run by a person who would be identified by many as the model of an Irish entrepreneur.
They contested a number of licences all the way to the Supreme Court. It was not a very inspiring sight to see an indigenous industry do those things on at least two or three occasions which was sufficient to suggest that they were not accidental oversights, or accidental mistakes of individuals, but were more likely organised, planned and deliberate. That is not the way to win trust. The public, in terms of their own comprehension of the environment, would want to direct their eyes a good way beyond to include a good deal more than the obvious targets. There is the slight view that the food industry is almost, by definition, environmentally friendly and the chemical industry is almost, by definition, the opposite.
Dairy waste is amongst the most lethal in terms of the destruction of the quality of water from substances that can be dumped into a river. It is not toxic but in terms of its capacity to destroy the life environment of river water there are few things worse. We would want to keep our eyes on the whole of the play.
Having said that, it would not be correct of me not to make a few references to a broader perspective. We have in the western world deceived ourselves for many years that economic growth is something that can go on forever. Most of what is being done, even in the most advanced countries, in terms of environmental protection, is still based on the assumption of growth forever.
There was a conference in Cork, at which the Minister's Department was represented, run by the Institution of Chemical Engineers and the FICI on the effect of the chemical industry on the environment. The first paper was read by Dr. John Cox, a chartered engineer, a Fellow of the Institute of Chemcial Engineers and well known as an international counsultant in the environment area. Dr. Cox made the point that the United States, with 2 per cent of the world's population, consumes 25 per cent of its oil. I am tempted to extrapolate from that certain other things that are going on around the world and the motivations for them, but I will restrain myself.
Dr. Cox a profesional mathematician said:
As a mathematical exercise I have calculated how much oil, gas, uranium, iron, copper and lead would be available if the entire world enjoyed the standard of living of the US in 1970.
That is not the standard the United States enjoys today.
The sobering result emerged that apart from coal and iron, which would have an eight to ten years lifetime, the average period before resource depletion of oil, gas, uranium, copper and lead would be two years.
If the world consumed oil at the rate that the United States consumes oil at present, the level of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere would increase tenfold. If the hungry world were to reach the standard of consumption — I do not say the standard of living, because I think it is a very ambiguous term — of the United States — I am just picking the United States because it is the greatest consumer of resources in the world — we would have two years of most of the world's fundamental resources left to us.
That is something the world should address in terms of environmental concerns because that Gadarine swine-type of pace of consumption of world resources is impossible to sustain. It will produce environmental disaster in its wake. It is extremely important that we should not just confine ourselves to the belief that ending emissions, however welcome that will be, will deal with underlying problems of what we are doing to this planet, and to the balance-of life and of the eco-system.
When we are looking at the issue of resources and the issue of the depletion and destruction of the environment, we ought to remind ourselves that it does not begin and end with science. The whole way in which economists have looked at the world — economists of both the left and right, if the left exists anymore, as a system of economics — with their attention to growth, have under-valued the world and its resources. I read an interesting article which pointed out that all over eastern Europe particularly, because it is the most extreme, but to a considerable extent in parts of Britain, Germany and the United States, economic growth continued from the forties to the sixties, and even in the 19th century, with appalling cost to the environment. However, that was still seen as a growth in gross national product and as an apparent measure of improvement in human wellbeing even though the whole environmental condition of the people who live in that area was being devastated. Having got away with it once we then proceed to build industries and a whole system to clean up that mess and we call that further economic growth whereas in fact all we have done is damaged the world's environment and now we have to spend a lot of money to get back to where we were before we did the damage.
The whole economic model is inadequate because economists regard everything outside the individual producer and consumer of goods as being a limitless resource which can never die. They never assume, for instance, the natural resources are limited. There is no such thing in traditional economics as the social cost of any activity. There is no such thing as the social cost of destroying the quality of the air in an area, or of the social cost.
Exercises have been carried out. The European Community has published a very interesting study on the social cost of different forms of energy usage. If you introduce even the most conservative, least favourable estimates of the cost of the social benefits of renewable energy — solar energy, wind energy and various things like that and add in the social benefits in terms of the reduction in emissions, in the reduction of risk from nuclear power stations, you discover that if your economics are done according to those criteria they are actually more economical than traditional methods of energy transformation.
That means that the whole basis for the assessment of economic wellbeing, as a measure of social wellbeing, is flawed because the economists have always failed to introduce the collective conception of the environment. However unfashionable collectivism in general may be, the one thing that must be said over and over again about the environment is that it is a collective problem that cannot be solved by individual enterprise or individuals. It has to be solved by states and communities and, ultimately, the whole world, acting together.
On the same related issue it would be incorrect to leave the question of growth and economics without a reference to the greenhouse effect. Not because I want to talk at length about it but because many of the remedies that would be implicit in a Bill like this are not actually remedies to end emissions but simply to change emissions. Incinerators, for instance, do not end emissions. They simply convert toxic subtances into carbon dioxide and water. The trouble is that carbon dioxide and water are two of the greenhouse gases. It is not a solution to environmental problems to convert substances which are environmentally unfriendly in one way into other substances which are environmentally friendly in another way only you put it on the longer finger.
There has to be a longer term strategy to stabilise the quality of the earth's atmosphere because of the fact that the greenhouse effect could ultimately have a more serious effect on the way life on this earth develops than the occasional emission of something highly toxic and life-threatening. Therefore, we cannot deal with the problems of emissions simply by changing the emissions. The only change must be into something that is harmless and there is very little that is harmless because the environment is an extremely delicate balance and any imbalance can produce all sorts of down's stream consequences which can do enormous damage, and will do enormous damage as we know at this stage.
It is worth reminding ourselves also that the gradual gobal warming will produce a knock-on effect which will make its own consequences worse. The gradual rise in world temperatures which that will produce may well release large quantities of methane from the permafrost of both the northern and southern hemispheres, the colder regions as they begin to warm. The trouble with methance is that it is vastly more a contributor, proportionately, to global warming than carbon dioxide. Therefore, you are into a sequence which will actually be what people would call a forward feed mechanism, that the gradual release of more carbon dioxide will produce more releases of methane, which will make the problem worse and worse. We have to stop it. It cannot go on. Therefore, solutions which are not based on ending emissions or stabilising the global environment are not solutions.
They are simply alternative ways of doing the same thing but making it happen over a longer period of time.
Coming back to our own national problems, I have to remind the Minister of a letter published in the Irish Times in 1985. When we had a debate in this House in February 1988 on the Water Pollution Bill, the Minister very proudly told us that in the local authorites there were 62 engineers, 70 technicians and 15 chemists responsible for environmental protection. At the time I came across a letter and it is worth repeating to this Minister because she might have something to say about it. The Chief Executive of the Central Fisheries Board wrote this letter and he said that over the five years from 1980 to 1985 his ten pollution officers investigated between 5,000 and 6,000 incidents annually and prosecuted about 70 people per annum. At the same time, the combined activities of local autorities in the same period amounted to 2,000 investigations per annum with about 30 prosecutions per annum. It seems to me that ten pollution officers by the Central fisheries were, on the face of it, enormously more efficient than a total of 140, officials of the local authorities. Perhaps the Minister could find out whether they were all actually involved in environmental protection or what were they doing.
Before looking at aspects of the Bill and some of its limitations, I understand the Minister intends to bring in a Bill to deal with waste disposal. The American Environmental Protection Agency legislation has been amended and among the amendments is a provision that one of the objections of the Environmental Protection Agency must be the minimisation of waste. This is an extremely important topic; it is part of what I said, it is part of realising that waste is not something that we can simply convert from one form to another.
If I can quote again from Dr. John Cox, he listed a series of statements about waste, the first being that elimination is better than control. I do not mean elimination of emissions, I mean eliminating waste, eliminating anything so that you do not have to deal with the emissions, you get rid of it at source rather than control it once it is there. He said a number of things that are perhaps worth putting on the record, even if some of them might be contentious. The first is that waste disposal companies encourage waste. Therefore, the whole question of whether waste disposal companies should exist is a matter of considerable contention.
The second point was that national consent limits will not work. We need international limits which will be imposed everywhere, otherwise we will have a flight of those industries that are not prepared and that are foolish enough not to accept decent standards in places where national limits are lower.
The third point was that trade in waste is a bad thing, that if waste becomes a marketable commodity there will be a further incentive to produce waste whereas, in fact, the objective should be to minimise the production of waste. The fourth point is one that is extremely important. Dilution does not reduce pollution. Dilution changes it but it does not reduce it. Dilution is a deception, in my view. Simply looking at concentrations on their own is not a sufficient response to pollution.
Finally, we should remember that conversion does not reduce pollution. Let us remember what happens. On the average plant, if there is an offensive gaseous emission they will scrub it out so you will turn it from a gaseous emission into a liquid emission. What do you do with the liquid emission? You will have to do something else with that. You might as well incinerate it and what will you do when you incinerate it? You produce another gaseous emission which may be less immediately toxic or less immediately environmentally unfriendly but is nevertheless an additional form of waste which in the long term will produce and have an impact on the quality of the environment. The whole area of waste needs further revision. When I first read the Bill I thought this was missing but I was informed that there could be a reason for that to do with future legislation. I hope we have legislation to deal with the whole area of waste that it will be based on the recognised need to minimise waste, not the idea of controlling it, regulating it, or organising it. The fundamental requirement must be zero waste producing zero effluent.
The 20 per cent of fish kills are attributable to local authorities, sewage, water and other civil works. It is a great pity that section 60 (2) (c) of the Bill effectively means that if local authorities do not have the resoruces to meet prescribed standards the Environmental Protection Agency can tut-tut as much as it likes but it cannot make them do anything. It is not the way to convince other areas of activity, particularly in industry, and agriculture, where considerable impositions will be needed if we are to preserve the quality of many of our rivers and streams, that they must do things because they must do them but the local authority will only have to do them if they have the money. That suggests one law for local authorities and another law for other people. That is not to blame the local authorities. As a community — successive Government will have to do this — there will have to be resources provided.
If a local authority are to be given the job with stringent new laws and with an Environmental Protection Agency which will expect them to enforce fairly stringent regulations, if on the one hand they will be measuring the quality of effluent from many activities in their area and telling people this is at an unacceptable level while, at the same time, 100 yards away they are discharging material into the same waterway and are exempt from any pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency because they do not have the money to do anything about it, they will not have much credibility in the eyes of the industry.
That kind of uneven standard is the sort of thing that is liable to persuade many multinationals to find somewhere else to operate than in a country which has two sets of standards for the environment, one for local authorities and another for industry. They will feel they are being had. It seems to me that subsection will have to be strengthened in terms of a timescale and a commitment beyond which that section will lapse. If you want to give it five years or 10 years until the programme on the environment that the Minister announced a couple of years ago is implemented, then let us have that and say that in ten years' time that subsection will lapse. To leave it open-ended forever is, in my view, to invite very invidious comparisons between the law for local authorities and the law for everybody else.
Another area that deserves considerable concern is the need to integrate the planning process and the issuing of integrated pollution licences by the Environmental Protection Agency. It would be a travesty of what I believe to be the Minister's intention if the EPA simply became a body that fed in information to the planning process, then the planning process made decisions and then people could appeal the standards set and the criteria set by the EPA to An Bord Pleanála because that would still leave An Bord Pleanála as the final Environmental Protection Agency.
An Bord Pleanála are neither transparent nor particularly credible. By this, I mean that An Bord Pleanála have no particular obligation to make public the basis on which an inspector comes to a conclusion at a public hearing. Neither do they have any obligation to make public the reasons they do not accept the recommendation of an inspector. It would be a great pity if ultimately the final decisions about areas of environmental protection were, by default or by lack of precision in legislation, left with An Bord Pleanála because one of the major objectives of this legislation would be lost which is to have an independent agency, transparent in its operation, properly resourced and able to take action to preserve the environment. It seems to me there is a case for considerably greater precision on that in the legislation.
As I have said already, I am still unhappy about the open-ended nature of this legislation in terms of what the Minister can say to the agency about extra responsibilities and can delegate extra responsibilities in a large range of areas to the EPA without some sort of consequential or linked guarantee of funding. It seems to me to be a recipe for a hopelessly under-resourced agency, over-burdened with work, and whenever we have a minor or a major disaster and there is a public outcry the Minister will say, "I am getting the EPA to look at that" and extend it yet further. If this agency do not have the resources to act quickly, efficiently and with all the expertise they need, they will lose credibility quickly and we will be worse off. If you set up an EPA and they do not work you cannot just start a second time. You will have lost the public argument about credibility.
Finally, a couple of specific points on the Bill. I did not intend to go on quite so long and I apologise to the Minister for that, there is an enormous amount to be said. I do not want to anticipate Committee Stage but there may be a few areas where the Minister could answer a few questions. Section 5 deals with the best available technology not entailing excessive costs. The definition of the best available technology etc. is construed as meaning the provision and proper maintenance, use, operation and supervision of facilities which, having regard to all the circumstances, are the most suitable for the purpose. We can do better than that. There must be something to do with scientific data and scientific information and the best available scientific information and there must be something to do with the environmental need of the time. In section 5 I am not happy with what looks to me like an excessively generous commitment to sensitivity about aged facilities, nor do I think it is right to refer to the best available technology and then in a subsection to talk about the costs which would be incurred. If the beef industry is having a bad year and a large number of plants are not up to scratch, can they postpone their investment in proper environmental protection equipment? I do not think we should. I do not think that does any good. To be consistent as a liberal on prison issues, I am not happy about anybody being landed in jail for ten years for an offence to do with the environmental pollution. I am quite happy with large cash penalties but ten years in jail seems to me to be a little disproportionate.
I do not want to drag out my contribution to the next sitting day but there are just a couple of areas I am unhappy about. I am unhappy about the whole area of disclosure of information because of the question of transparency. The agency can publish a lot of things but they do not have to publish very much. They may for instance, cause a report of an inquiry to be published but they do not have to cause a report to be published. On the other hand, they have the absolute right to define what is confidential information. That, of course leaves them in a position where they are not actually accountable. The only information that should be confidential is information for which there is an overwhelming reason to ensure confidentiality and that is usually commercial.
I will remind the Minister — I am sure she is aware of it — of Toxnet in the United States. It is a data base, accessible to anybody with ordinary personal computer and it has in its data base about 20,000 chemicals, all of the emissions of most of the chemical industry in the United States. Of those 20,000 substances, only 30 have presented problems for the industry in terms of actual genuine commercial sensitivity. We need similar criteria here. Let them argue and convince the agency that certain data is commercially sensitive but beyond that let everything be transparent. In particular, let recommendations by the agency to the Minister about standards be published. If the Minister wants to disagree and not implement them, let them be published. Let recommendations on codes of practice be published, let recommendations on criteria for various areas at activity be guaranteed to be published.
Section 107, which enables the Minister to make environmental data available does not make the Minister make it available. It is enabling legislation. It should be a right of the public to know. All over the area of availability of information is the enabling rather than the compelling, whereas on the question of confidentiality it is a fact that confidential information must not be disclosed.
On the question of the advisory committee, it is a bit peculiar to invite representatives of environmentally concerned groups to act on an advisory committee and not be able to report on their activities in areas that the agency will define to their own members. That is a guarantee to make people quite rapidly have the feeling from within the membership of their organisation that they are not really representing them anymore.
The whole area of confidentiality will need to be looked into. The world is full of Acts dealing with freedom of information. There is no difficulty in drafting legislation which protects confidential information where there is a legitimate interest and guarantees public access. The United States has comprehensive freedom of information legislation which is still capable of defending both the national security of that country and the commercial interest of various bodies. Yet, we had the ridiculous situation in this country where information was sought on defence-related issues which Eolas had and Eolas would not supply because they said it was confidential. Some of these organisations then contacted similar organisations in the United States and had no problem getting the details through the American Freedom of Information Act where Eolas were establishing standards for the Defence Department. They got it from the United States under American Freedom of Information legislation.
In many of these areas, because of the existence of firms like Toxnet in the United States, much of what some people would have you believe is commercially confidential is available from them in the United States. You are actually writing legislation to keep confidential things that, increasingly, as the world becomes a smaller place and as processes become similar are replicated in a number of different political units. Confidentiality, unless it is based on sound criteria, will be meaningless. Therefore, this legislation badly needs an emphasis on the right of people to access to information and on the right of people to have serious commercial information kept confidential and not leaked by some backdoor method. The more you distinguish between what is rightly and properly confidential and what is rightly and properly in the public domain, the more likely it will be that you will be able to enforce this legislation. It would be useful if the Minister addressed the question of the integration and not just the integrated pollution licence.