Environmental crime approach is inadequate: ‘Total chain out of order’

A small group of around 500 companies operating with large quantities of hazardous substances violates โ€œfrequent environmental legislationโ€. Moreover, the approach to environmental crime and environmental offences is โ€œinadequateโ€. This is what the Court of Auditors writes in a report published this afternoon.

Companies that work with large quantities of hazardous substances can be found in the chemical and storage industries. Examples of where this went wrong, for example, is the fire at Chemie Pack in Moerdijk in 2011, which created a dangerous situation for the environment.

Remarkably, the extent of this type of environmental crime was first unknown to the Ministry of Infrastructure & Water Management and the Supervisor Inspection of Environment & Transport. There is no complete oversight and enforcement oversight, so the entire information supply chain is out of order. The Court of Auditors has now mapped this for the first time.

The 20,000 inspections identified nearly 3,500 times one or more violations. Remarkably, there is a relatively small group of perpetrators: 17% of audited companies account for half of all violations detected. 56% of criminal cases were found to involve 30 companies (6%). The Court recommends disclosing results of inspections in the future.

Defective Registration

The reason that there was no understanding of this before is due to the โ€œdefective registrationโ€ by the environmental services. Sometimes information is missing. โ€œWe fell off our seats,โ€ said Arno Visser, President of the Court of Auditors. โ€œSometimes it wasn‘t clear which inspection and enforcement data belong to which company.โ€ Moreover, a whopping one-third of the offences did not mention how serious the offence was.

In the Netherlands, environmental offences and crime control is carried out by the various regional environmental services. Previously, a report prepared by a committee led by Jozias van Aartsen showed that these services use different methods of operation. The national enforcement strategy is not applied consistently. โ€œThis is how the 29 environmental services invented the wheel 29 times,โ€ says Van Aartsen.

In addition, environmental services must all be legally connected to a central data exchange data system called Inspection View. Nine environmental services are not yet. The Ministry of I&W states in a response that it has been agreed to be affiliated by January 1, 2022.

According to the Court of Auditors, criminal cases have a little deterrent effect. If a company is prosecuted, the majority end with a transaction or criminal order of less than 10,000 euros. These are amounts that, according to the Court of Auditors, often account for less than 1% of the company’s profits or turnover.

โ€œFines should have a deterrent effect and have to repay behavior. Now it can be seen as a calculated risk. This is a real example The Hague should look at.โ€

Visser: politics no interest

Corporate compliance and supervision of the rules is a topic that should be high on the agenda in The Hague as far as Visser is concerned. From politics, there was little interest in the subject, according to Visser. โ€œBut it‘s not a small beer. It’s about citizens‘ health ultimately.โ€

Van Aartsen says: โ€œExcept when there’s a big affair like Tata Steel. That comes to the fore and then we say, oh, what bad. But this is a structural thing.โ€

Among other things, the Court recommends that registration be done the same everywhere and to develop a special approach for the perpetrators. In addition, they want the offenses to be made public.

Arno Visser and Jozias van Aartsen will be a guest at Nieuwsuur tonight, at 9:30pm at NPO2.