“They had a chance to deal with the pollution of our streams, rivers and chalk seas, and they refused.”
Jenny Jones is a member of the Green Party of the House of Lords
The House of Lords, combined with the campaign to have our sewage system repaired, ultimately forced the government to impose a legal obligation on water companies to progressively reduce the amount of polluting waste they produce in our rivers and coasts.
It is both a huge concession and totally inadequate. It fails to tie the speed of the reductions to the bonuses these companies give to their shareholders and executives. It also doesn’t outline a timetable to ensure that spills are the exception and not the rule.
The MPs have voted and the Lords will have to back down. I was hoping that we could still add an obligation on ministers to create a timetable for water companies to put an end to pollution, but sadly that was not possible.
The government has legitimized the sewage discharges that will take place from now on.
This problem will haunt Conservative MPs until the next election. People will not forget. A map of daily spills shows large amounts of feces and waste being dumped in rural countryside and on the pleasant shores of conservative constituencies.
It’s dog sitters, fishing enthusiasts, surfers and wild swimmers who notice this the most, but the reality of Britain returning to its status as a dirty man of Europe in the 1970s has become obvious to many others.
I hope the government now admits its lies about the need for hundreds of billions of pounds to solve the problem and give MPs a true picture of the immediate investment needed.
I want to emphasize that the cost should not be borne by the public via water bills. The water companies took £ 60 billion of our money and gave it to shareholders instead of making the necessary investments. They have avoided their duty to upgrade the sewer system and have to take it away from their profits.
The government could lend the water companies the money to make the improvements, as long as they are not allowed to pay shareholders or give bonuses to their executives until the upgrades are made.
If we had had a strict regulatory system, this scandal could never have escalated as it did. It is a failure of the government, but also of Wat, and of the Environment Agency.
Unfortunately, the environmental law does nothing to address our toothless system of environmental protection.
Your Lordship’s amendments aimed at transforming the fledgling Environmental Protection Agency from a puppy to a Rottweiler, but even the parliamentarians rejected these amendments.
I hope we can still pressure the government to reject the legalization of water pollution, but I suspect the best we can do is ensure that every Conservative MP is constantly reminded that our dirty and polluted rivers are their fault.
They had a chance to deal with the pollution of our chalk streams, rivers and seas, and they refused.
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