The Environment Agency has launched a consultation on changes to fines imposed for environmental offences.

The consultation, which was launched yesterday (Tuesday, August 15), will run for eight weeks and close on October 8.

It is seeking views on when penalties are used, how they are calculated and the appeals process.

This follows an announcement from the UK government last month in which it said it will lift the current cap of £250,000 that the Environment Agency can impose directly on operators.

As well as this, the government is seeking to expand the number of offences that will be punishable by monetary penalties.

The aim of the new legislation, which will be approved by both Houses of Parliament before coming into force, is to offer regulators a quicker method of enforcement rather than “lengthy and costly criminal proceedings”, the Environment Agency said.

Executive director of the Environment Agency, John Leyland, said: “These new enforcement powers will be an extra tool in our armoury to hold polluters to account.

“They will act as a further deterrent – boosting compliance across a range of sectors and helping us provide stronger protection to the environment, communities and nature.”

Minister for environmental quality and resilience, Rebecca Pow, said polluters must “always pay” for their offences.

“…by lifting the cap on these sanctions, we are simultaneously toughening our enforcement tools and expanding where regulators can use them,” she said.

“This consultation builds on government action to increase investment, toughen enforcement and tighten regulation and will make sure there is a proportionate punishment for operators that breach their permits and harm our rivers, seas and precious habitats.”

The Environment Agency said that, although the fines will be more commonly used as a quicker enforcement method for environmental offences, the most serious cases will continue to be taken through criminal proceedings.

“There are clear provisions in the sentencing council guidelines that will ensure the level of penalties levied are proportionate to the degree of environmental harm and culpability,” it said.

“These include safeguards to ensure the operator’s ability to pay, the size of the operators, and the degree of responsibility and harm, amongst others – all of which are taken into account when imposing a penalty.

“The penalties will only be applied where it is shown beyond reasonable doubt that an offence has occurred.”