EAC Meeting: Office for Environmental Protection

The Office for Environmental Protection was established by the Environment Act 2021, with statutory duties to scrutinise environmental law and Environmental Improvement Plans, to advise the Government on environmental law, and enforce failures to comply with environmental law.

On Wednesday 23 March 2022, I participated in an Environmental Audit Committee scrutiny hearing with the Chair and  Interim Chief Executive Officer of the OEP, Dame Glenys Stacey DBE and Ms Natalie Prosser.

My questions concerned the OEP’s monitoring of environmental law. I asked whether the panellists’ overall approach to this would be to make detailed considerations of specific areas, or would be more thematic. I asked how the OEP are planning to engage with the Government’s review of retained EU law. Some parts of environmental law are very technical, so I asked the panellists how the OEP planned to develop expertise in such fields given its limited resources.

The Environmental Act requires the OEP to advise Ministers when the Minister seeks advice, but it is less clear whether the OEP can advise Ministers without a request from Government, if the issues in question are relevant. I asked the panel to clarify in what circumstances OEP would proactively advise in this way. Recent examples are the Nature Recovery Green Paper and Environmental Targets, so I asked the panel to confirm whether the OEP intends to advise Government on them.

Finally, I asked whether the OEP intends to litigate, and suggested that one way to develop a diverse workforce would be to recruit at Law Schools and Jobs Fairs, as it can be difficult for ethnic minority students to gain articles, and students do not always think of working in government departments.