Environment Agency preps carbon police force

New team of auditors and investigators to keep tabs on firms covered by the Carbon Reduction Commitment

The Environment Agency is to launch a dedicated unit to ensure that the government's imminent Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) legislation is properly enforced.

According to The Sunday Times, around 50 auditors and inspectors will be given wide-ranging powers, including the right to search company premises, view energy meters and seize records.

Ed Mitchell, head of business performance and regulation at the agency, told the newspaper that the new unit would have the necessary teeth to catch firms failing to provide accurate energy use data. "The inspectors will carry warrant cards giving them powers of entry to collect evidence," he said. "We will also have access to company accounts with suppliers."

Under the CRC, around 6,000 businesses and public-sector organisations will be required to report on annual energy use and carbon emissions from their facilities. The worst-performing organisations will have to pay a penalty into a central fund, the proceeds from which will be distributed between those firms that prove the most effective at curbing emissions.

All companies covered by the legislation will also be ranked in a public league table, effectively naming and shaming them into investing in energy efficiency measures.

Mitchell predicts the unit will undertake paper-based audits of around 1,200 organisations a year. Site inspections will be reserved for organisations with suspicious energy reporting patterns.

The team will also be supported by the Environment Agency's existing network of pollution inspectors, many of whom are to be trained in policing energy use and carbon emissions.

The formation of the new unit marks a shift in enforcement strategy for the Environment Agency, which has previously been criticised for allowing new laws to "bed in" for several years before they are fully policed.

Last year the agency attracted censure from green groups for taking over a year following the introduction of the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) directive to secure a prosecution. It has been similarly criticised for failing to enforce energy efficient building regulations.

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