A storm of protest greeted Part II of the Waste Management Licensing Regulations. Now industry representatives are sitting down with the policy makers to thrash out a workable implemention, says John Waters.
The fortunes of the contaminated land remediation business have fluctuated considerably in the past year. While the performance of in situ and ex situ clean up techniques has become increasingly robust and prices more competitive with excavation and licensed off-site disposal, draconian waste management licensing regulation threatens to stall the industry's progress.
The remediation industry is in favour of clear and concise regulation to protect the environment while permitting on site solutions that limit the volume of material despatched for off-site disposal/containment. Government policy is to encourage sustainable solutions to environmental problems.
Yet the Department of the Environment Transport and Regions (DETR) and the Environment Agency (EA) started to implement the Waste Management Licensing (Part II) Regulations which would have overnight introduced an minimum delay of four months into all on site remediation projects.
A storm of protest first broke over the effect on ex situ bioremeditation projects. Later it became clear that the proposed interpretation would also affect
in situ solutions, such as soil vapour extraction. The latter is probably the most widely used
on site remediation solution; research indicates it has been used more than 300 times in the UK, providing landowners considerable savings and allowing treatment while the site, such as a petrol station, continues to operate.
The Waste Management Licensing Regulations were originally developed to ensure landfill sites were appropriately engineered to protect the environment. They have progressively been adapted to apply to land treatment and storage of controlled material with evolving exemptions and a mobile treatment licence option. However, application of a full waste licence may require planning permission and protracted bureaucracy, while landfilling is a relatively simple administrative procedure.
The Environmental Industries Commission's contaminated land working group has been most concerned about this issue. Remediation companies worry about the cash flow implications, while consultants are concerned that such measures limit their ability to offer cost effective alternatives for their clients.
The working group has been involved in bimonthly meetings with EA and DETR officials to review the evolving situation.
Points arising from those discussions include the fact that contaminated soils subject to disposal or recovery are covered by the Part II regime. In many cases licensing (either mobile plant or site) will be required, but the EA is looking at the use of exemptions or 'conditional exemptions'.
Mobile plant licences (MPLs) are applicable for treatment of contaminated soils, both in situ and ex situ. The Enviroment Agency will be recommending revised wording to the DETR to clarify what sorts of contaminated material are suitable for MPLs. It is intended to make this broad, and to include contaminated water as well as solid material.
For remediation of contaminated ground water, where a discharge consent is in place, a waste management licence is not needed. Where there is no discharge consent a WML would normally be needed.
The Environment Agency is entitled to impose conditions on MPLs relating to post treatment monitoring.
Where in ground barriers do not involve treatment (including excavation and replacing) of contaminated materials they are not regarded as licensable under Part II.
It is likely that the EA will be using other regulatory regimes, where appropriate, to determine the standard for remediation and to require validation measures to demonstrate successes. Part II only provides a control on the remedial process being carried out, not on the 'end-point' - it does not indicate that the EA believes the technique will meet the remedial objectives.
There are key differences between Part II licensing and contaminated land policy. Remedial treatment meeting the objectives of contaminated land policy does not automatically mean that the treated material is no longer classed as waste. It is unlikely at present that the EA will prosecute for not having a licence for remedial works which were under way or contracted at the time the operational instruction of August 1998 was issued, provided that an application for a licence has been submitted and the Waste Framework Directive objectives are being met. At this stage the EA is preparing mobile plant licensing guidelines for its staff and is likely to consult on these procedures later this year.
Considerable progress has been achieved though active dialogue between the regulators and the environmental service industry. While there will clearly be a significant tightening of licensing and enforcement, both groups are working hard to ensure on site remediation solutions are not discriminated against and the Government's aims of sustainable development are maintained.
John Waters is chairman of the contaminated land working group of the Environmental Industries Commission and a director of Environmental Resources Management