Public confidence and credibility of EPA is shot after Prime Times expose

08 January 2016

The public confidence in and the credibility of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is completely shot following last night’s Prime Time investigation.

The programme completely exposed the failings and shortcomings in the corporate culture, governance, reliability and competence of the EPA as it is currently constituted.

Underpinned by legislation the EPA is virtually unaccountable and answerable to no one, under the pretext of its statutory independence.

However, this is grievously flawed an unsatisfactory and the EPA now urgently requires a radical root-and-branch reform and restructuring to render it more accountable, reliable, transparent, accessible and ultimately answerable to the public, which it is intended to serve.

The excellent public service journalism delivered in the Prime Time special report emphatically and unequivocally exposed the EPA as not being fit for purpose and being incapable of serving the public good and the public interest, first and foremost.

While RTE’s Prime Time focused on a case study of the Enva hazardous waste oil recycling facility in Portlaoise, I am acutely aware that this is not a one-off or local phenomenon or problem but rather representative and indicate of widespread and systemic and systematic failure on the part of the EPA.

The Director General of the EPA should step aside as they have presided over this abject failure in order to start the process of restoring public confidence and trust in this vital and critical State agency.

The EPA’s management, inspection, monitoring and enforcement regime is in tatters as was evidently demonstrated in the Prime Time investigation. What is even more worrying is that the EPA continue to defend and try to cover-up their litany of failures and seem to think that a dab of perfume, perhaps ‘Old Spice’, will make these odorous emissions in Portlaoise evaporate.

They completely miss the point that what stinks is the stench of their gross negligence and incompetence to show any regard or respect for the residents and workers who have inundated them with complaints and concerns for years. That they have been aware that Enva’s licence is based on an entirely false premise regarding its recycling process and that they were only finally forced to act when the posse of public opinion of Prime Time questions were closing in on them.

It has been independently confirmed and corroborated that the process emissions from the Enva plant contain toxins, carcinogenic chemicals, and volatile organic compounds which are potentially harmful to the public health. The EPA have to wake up, smell and taste the emissions. This is not simply an odour or air quality issue.

Enva have now pledged on the court record to invest €1m to install the best available technology. As recently as last July both the EPA and Enva insisted that this was not necessary and they were squeaky clean.

Enva need to urgently clean up their act and the Minister for the Environment must ensure that the EPA get their house in order, whatever that takes. No one could trust or have confidence in the EPA in its current guise and configuration.

We need to recyclable waste. We need to recycle waste oil. We need plants such as the Enva installation in Portlaoise to do so in a safe and responsible manner for all our sake and the health and safety of all their workers and those living and working in the wider community, and for the sake of our environment. Contrary to some scaremongering, I wouldn’t wish and certainly don’t want any of the workers at Enva to lose their job.

The only ones who should lose their job are those at the top of the EPA who have tried to fob-off and fudge issues like the Enva emissions in Portlaoise and all over the country. We cannot sleep easy in our beds knowing that they are in charge.

I will be engaging with the Environment Minister, Alan Kelly and requesting him to tackle this matter head-on. I will also be requesting the Oireachtas Environment Committee to call in the EPA, Enva, all other interested parties and stakeholders into a public hearing on this clear and abject failure of oversight and regulation by the EPA.

Not for the first time the public, public health and public confidence are the losers as the EPA behaves more like a lapdog than a watchdog.

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