Friday 4 March 2011

Judge rules on liability for clean-up of landfill

EUROPEAN REGULATIONS aimed at making company directors personally liable for the costs of environmental clean-ups have not been correctly transposed into Irish law, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice John Edwards gave his ruling yesterday in a case by the Environmental Protection Agency against Nephin Trading and others involved in a licensed landfill at Kerdiffstown, near Naas, Co Kildare.

The environmental agency and the Department of Environment spent €3 million fighting a major fire at the landfill which burnt for about four weeks earlier this year. The full clean-up of the site is expected to cost in excess of €30 million.

Nephin Trading and associated companies Dean Waste and Jenzsoph Ltd had been operating at the landfill and recycling facility for some 14 years until the agency secured court orders stopping them from accepting any further waste last year.

Nephin Trading and its associated companies subsequently went into liquidation, and the agency sought a “fall-back order” to make the directors of the companies involved personally liable.

However, in the High Court yesterday Justice Edwards said he had reservations about the legislation underpinning such a move. He questioned the transposition of the European Waste Framework Directive into Irish law.

Mr Justice Edwards said the provisions of Section 57/58 of the Waste Management Acts “do not in fact effectively transpose the enforcement obligation of the Waste Framework Directive”.

Justice Edwards noted that in the past the High Court had not had a difficulty in relation to making directors liable under this Act. He also noted courts of the same level “should be extremely slow” to disagree with each other.

On this point he said he had received submissions from the Attorney General, who was represented in court yesterday.

However Mr Justice Edwards said he “didn’t find the submissions particularly helpful as they were telling me what I already knew, that the courts should be extremely slow to disagree”.

Justice Edwards said he had been presented with “no real argument to the problems the court was dealing with” in relation to the issue of the transposition of the EU directive.

The judge’s full ruling is expected to become available to the public within days.

The court was adjourned until March 18th, at which the issue of the costs of the case will be addressed.

After the short hearing yesterday the agency said it would be making no comment until it had studied the judgment.

However, the directors of the companies involved said they welcomed the decision.

They said they would be calling on the incoming government to investigate the “full circumstances surrounding the loss of 200 jobs and the loss of an investment of €80 million”.

The agency has begun preliminary work to remove stockpiles of fire-risk waste and landfill leachate, providing 24-hour security, setting up an on-site office, increasing monitoring and inspection and dealing with “immediate health and safety issues”.

Funding for the short-term emergency works had been provided by the department and further funding for remediation works would be “released on a phased basis”, the agency said. Altogether, it will involve dealing with two million tonnes of waste.

Senior agency officials recently met the Clean Air Naas lobby group, which had been critical of the agency’s handling of the case. It has agreed to co-operate on the basis that “all matters will be fully disclosed” and no information would be “suppressed”.

Irish Times

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