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    Photo : Personnel in Onema local offices have become environmental inspectors (Michel Monsay - Onema)

Environmental police now reformed

The reform of the environmental police entered into force on 1 July 2013. The three main components are a simplification and unification of inspection procedures, the creation of the position of "environmental inspector" and a balancing and reinforcement of penalties.

Since the 1970s, environmental regulations have become increasingly dense and complex. No fewer than 24 special police forces for air, water, hunting, coastal zones, waste, regulated installations, national parks, etc. were to date in charge of enforcing the regulations. Each had its own special organisation and policing procedures. Confronted with the complexity of the police forces and the long-standing difficulties in terms of disregard for regulations and the ineffectiveness of inspections and penalties, the government finally decided to modernise the environmental police. The ordinance dated 11 January 2012 reforming the environmental police came into force on 1 July 2013.

It set new rules for administrative inspections and reinforced the system of administrative penalties. Among other aspects, it clarified the conditions for injunctions and created a new system of punitive penalties and fines.

Environmental inspectors

The main groups of police officers active in the environmental field have now become environmental inspectors divided into two specialised branches, the environment (water and nature) and regulated installations (prevention of pollution, hazards). They work either for State services (regional directorates for the environment, departmental territorial agencies) or for public entities such as Onema, ONCFS, national parks and the Agency for protected marine zones. They now have greater inspection powers, making them truly specialised investigators with the means to detect and report a vast array of offences (covering half of the entire Environment code). For example, the "water and nature" inspectors at Onema now have new policing powers concerning flood prevention and the spraying of phytosanitary products.

Unifying and reinforcing criminal penalties

The ordinance unifies the penalties imposed for a given offence and reorganises penalties according to the seriousness of the potential harm done to the environment by both natural and legal persons. For example, it increases penalties if substantial environmental damage occurs or health hazards are created. In addition, the "suspension/injunction" procedure, whereby the penalty is lifted if compliance is obtained within a certain time limit, has now been generalised. It postpones sentencing in an effort to force a guilty party to undertake restoration work or upgrading, with possible financial penalties if certain deadlines are overrun. During a later meeting, the judge sets the final sentence depending on whether the work was effectively done or not.

The ordinance has supplied powerful means to punish damage to the environment and the task now for both the Onema water and nature inspectors and the judicial sector is to make effective use of those means. Onema has launched a training programme on the new investigative powers for its personnel. In addition, to reinforce contacts with State prosecutors, a special contact person in each Onema local office is now in charge of relations with the magistrate for environmental affairs in each prosecutor's office.

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