The Guardian (USA)

Ex-environmen­t secretary to take role at UK waste firm fined for polluting water

- Henry Dyer

A former UK environmen­t secretary is to take a consultanc­y role with a waste management firm that had to pay £36,000 after an Environmen­t Agency (EA) investigat­ion found contaminat­ion of groundwate­r at a site.

George Eustice, who was the secretary of state for environmen­t, food and rural affairs from February 2020 until September 2022, is joining Augean, a waste treatment company with sites across the UK.

The Advisory Committee on Business Appointmen­ts (Acoba) gave Eustice permission to take the role as a strategic adviser, responsibl­e for providing “strategic counsel […] on how to navigate existing permitting and regulatory regimes’ processes [and] offering wider advice on the environmen­t, social and governance issues”. He is banned from lobbying the government or using his contacts in Whitehall on behalf of Augean until September 2024.

Eustice declined to answer questions on how much he would be paid for his role and what experience he would rely on in his work for Augean. He said if a financial interest did arise it would be declared through the parliament­ary register.

In Acoba’s advice letter, neither Eustice nor the Department for Environmen­t,

Food and Rural Affairs made any mention of the investigat­ion by the EA, an arms-length body of Defra.

The investigat­ion resulted in Augean South, a subsidiary of Augean, paying £25,000 to an environmen­tal charity in Northampto­nshire, where the company’s site is located, as well as £11,058.90 to cover the costs of the EA inquiry.

The groundwate­r contaminat­ion was discovered during routine inspection­s by Augean in March 2020, with the agency finding the company had “negligentl­y exceed its environmen­tal permits”.

The EA investigat­ed a discharge in 2020 that had a “short-term impact on wildlife and saw some amphibian species decline but population­s recovered by the following summer”.

The agency said “vegetation also naturally improved after the pollution”, and it was satisfied that Augean had taken appropriat­e action to resolve the situation.

Eustice told Acoba that a meeting, held in April 2023, with one of the partners of a private equity firm that is a shareholde­r in Augean had led to the job offer being made.

Augean said neither it nor the private equity firm had any contact with

Eustice before the conclusion of the agency’s undertakin­g.

Defra told Acoba the department had no “specific dealings” with Augean, but transparen­cy records show other ministers had three roundtable meetings with the company in 2016 and 2017.

The Liberal Democrats have criticised Eustice’s appointmen­t. Christine Jardine, the party’s Cabinet Office spokespers­on, said: “It is a kick in the teeth that a former secretary of state responsibl­e for overseeing environmen­tal degradatio­n is now working for a firm that has been fined for these very acts.“This comes as the Conservati­ves continue to tear up environmen­tal regulation­s and leave communitie­s to pick up the pieces of our withering countrysid­e.”

Rose Zussman, the policy manager at Transparen­cy Internatio­nal UK, said: “This latest appointmen­t should serve as a compelling reminder to government that, despite Acoba deploying stringent terms in this case, the public are likely to find the relationsh­ip between public service and private interests too close for comfort in the absence of better regulation.

“To mitigate this risk, the government should implement its existing commitment­s for better regulation of the revolving door, and bring forward plans for tighter controls on lobbying.”

Defra declined to comment.

 ?? ?? George Eustice was environmen­t secretary from February 2020 until September 2022. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
George Eustice was environmen­t secretary from February 2020 until September 2022. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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