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Wilson appointment as NI Environment Minister a mistake

9 Jun 2008

Environmentalists reacted with concern at the appointment of Sammy
Wilson to the post of Northern Ireland Environment Minister today. John Woods,
Director of Friends of the Earth in the North said:

"I congratulate Sammy Wilson on his appointment but I believe it is a
mistake. Mr Wilson is well known for his sceptical views on climate
change [1]; it is difficult to see how a Minister who holds such views
in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence could be a credible
protector of our environment. But the test will be how Sammy Wilson
approaches his new responsibilities. The jury is out on this appointment
- he has a good deal to prove."

Friends of the Earth set out the main items in the new Minister's
in-tray.

* Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The decision of the outgoing Minister Arlene Foster to deny Northern
Ireland an Environmental Protection Agency places Sammy Wilson in the
eye of a storm. He will have to contend with the anger and determination
of an Assembly that is overwhelmingly in favour of an EPA. A Petition of
Referral has been signed by 30 MLAs, triggering a discussion by the
Executive where Wilson will come under pressure to have a re-think.
Supporters of an agency are looking to the other three Executive parties
to deliver on their manifesto commitments, describing this as a key test
for devolution and democracy.

* Climate change
The Assembly having opted into the UK Climate Change bill, pressure will
grow on the Environment Minister to bring forward legislation creating
legally-binding targets for cuts in Northern Ireland's greenhouse gas
emissions. Cuts will be essential if Northern Ireland is to do its fair
share in tackling climate change and will also help business prepare for
a low-carbon future.

* PPS14
Arlene Foster was unable to achieve the consensus necessary in the
Executive Subcommittee to publish a revised draft of this controversial
policy before leaving her post. Environmental groups are urging Sammy
Wilson to defend the existing draft policy in order to protect the rural
landscape and water quality, and keep a lid on carbon emissions. John
Woods, Northern Ireland Director of Friends of the Earth said:

"Sammy Wilson and his colleagues on the Executive Subcommittee would do
well to consider rising oil prices before locking Northern Ireland into
a dispersed settlement pattern that is heavily dependent on oil for
commuting."

* Planning Reform
Arlene Foster began a process of planning reform whose primary objective
was haste rather than sustainable development. If Northern Ireland is to
develop in ways that do not erode our environmental asset, sustainable
development must become the focus of the planning system.

* Biodiversity loss
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK not to have set itself the
target of halting biodiversity loss by 2010 and has opted for 2016
instead, citing inadequate resources as its reason. This opt-out leaves
the UK non-compliant with its international obligations under the 2002
Gothenburg Agreement.

* Regulating NI Water pollution
Crown Immunity was removed from Water Service when it became Northern
Ireland Water. Despite this, an agreement [2] between Environment and
Heritage Service and NI Water contains a number of flaws which removes
EHS's ability to enforce European law in a number of circumstances. This
is a breach of one of the key articles of the Treaty of Rome and the
Minister is likely to have to contend with an investigation by the
European Commission

* SEA compliance
A High Court decision [3] that Northern Ireland does not comply with the
EU Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive is currently being
appealed by the DOE. The judge said that an independent EPA may have to
be created for compliance to be achieved. Meanwhile Friends of the Earth
has brought the matter to the attention of the European Commission. The
Minister may have to revisit his predecessor's decision to rule out an
EPA.

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