MEPs back retrospective environmental liability

Environment committee calls on Commission to produce wide-ranging liability directive

The European Parliament's environment committee has challenged the European Commission to reverse its opposition to making firms retroactively responsible for damage to the environment caused before a planned EU directive on civil liability for environmental damage is agreed.

In a non-binding opinion passed yesterday, the committee narrowly favoured a future liability regime that could extract damages caused by past pollution, without which, it said, the legal regime would be weakened.

Retroactive liability is staunchly opposed by industry and was rejected by the European Commission earlier this year (ENDS Daily 9 February). At a briefing in Brussels today to mark her first year in office, however, environment commissioner Margot Wallström did not rule out a change in policy: "We're doing studies on liability," she said. "We will look at the arguments, the pros and cons, before making our proposal."

A string of other suggestions to expand the scope of the regime floated by the Commission have been endorsed by the environment committee. Potentially the most significant is its demand that strict liability be extended to "all activities causing damage to biodiversity, nature reserves, soil and water." The Commission has proposed limiting strict liability just to dangerous activities covered by EU legislation.

In other extensions to the scope, the committee says damage to nature reserves other than just EU designated ones should be covered by the regime, that damage from nuclear power plants and genetically modified organisms should be expressly included and that insurance cover should be mandatory. It also says the burden of proof should be alleviated so that plaintiffs need only demonstrate "plausible causality" between pollution and damage for the polluter to have a case to answer.

Follow Up:
European Parliament environment committee, tel: 284 2111, and the opinion, which will soon be posted here.

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