A recent report by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) demonstrates the value of a smart and well enforced environmental legal corpus. The report covers 428 sets of regulations overseen by DEFRA, of which 53% are derived from EU or international law, the rest being national legislation.
As stated in the report “Emerging Findings from Defra’s Regulation Assessment - First update covering 2012”, which was published in February, “[t]he assessment found that the sum of estimated direct cost to business was £6bn and that estimated direct benefits to business are £2bn p.a., giving an estimated net cost to business of £4bn p.a. The direct cost to business (£6bn) is made up of policy costs (86%) and admin burden (14%). Policy costs are the substantive costs of achieving the regulations’ results and the admin burdens are the cost to business associated with information obligations such as filling in forms and keeping records. EU and international regulations account for 79% of the estimated (£6bn) direct cost to business. Direct costs to other parties, which is mainly public expenditure, are just above £1bn p.a.”,
In 2012, the environmental section of the UK Government’s “Red Tape Challenge” initiative, led by DEFRA, had attracted much criticism for potentially threatening the country’s environmental acquis. According to environmental groups, such as WWF UK, its declared aim to “free up business and society from the burden of excessive regulation” was welcome. However, under the pressure of the economic crisis, focus seemed to be placed on removing environmental safeguards that are deemed as “burden” on businesses. Concerns were already fuelled by the fact that the UK Government supports a deregulatory environmental agenda both at the national and the EU level.
Although the Red Tape Challenge was primarily aimed at reducing the cost of environmental regulations on businesses, DEFRA also included the benefits to society and health in its assessment: “In terms of the value of the benefits generated, where currently monetised, these are estimated at about £10bn p.a. and accrue to parties other than business. These are the benefits to society more widely, and include financial savings to government, environmental benefits and health benefits. The picture for these benefits to parties other than business more widely is partial; estimates are based on 13 of the 17 policy areas. Further, within those policy areas the benefits for only some of the regulations have been assessed.”