A decision notice published by the Information Commissioner’s Office has confirmed that electricity and gas companies are subject to the same public scrutiny of how their activities affect the environment as the water industry. The decision means that all utilities have a legal duty to disclose directly to the public the environmental information they hold on request.
The decision followed a refusal by E.ON UK Plc to provide information to Fish Legal who were representing a charter boat owner facing exclusion from areas around a windfarm off the Brighton coast. The Information Commissioner’s Office upheld Fish Legal’s subsequent complaint, a decision that E.ON UK Plc then appealed in the courts unsuccessfully.
The decision extends the scope of information law beyond the 2015 landmark case won by Fish Legal in which the Upper Tribunal ruled that water and sewage companies in England and Wales were subject to environmental information regulation.
Fish Legal solicitor, Geoff Hardy, said:
“We are very pleased with this decision. It is a blow to those utility companies wishing to withhold information on the environmental impacts of their activities. We hope that they recognise and embrace their duty to disclose information in the interest of greater transparency, particularly now that matters relating to the environment carry widespread public interest.”
He added: “The ruling is particularly important when it comes to renewables such as wind farms and hydro-electric schemes. Any negative impacts on the environment of such schemes, which are often brushed-over, cannot now be hidden away.”
Fish Legal Chief Executive, Jamie Cook, said:
“I am already aware that half the battle in challenging activities that damage fisheries and the wider environment is access to information. That is why this decision is so important, not only for anglers but for everyone who has questions about whether these multinational companies are acting in the best interests of the environment or their shareholders.”
He added: “It goes to show, once again, that anglers are at the forefront of the fight to shine a light on the impact of big business on the environment and we will continue to act on our members’ behalf to hold them account.”
- An Information Notice was initially served on E.ON UK Plc by the Information Commissioner, the body responsible for upholding information rights. The notice was appealed and taken to the specialist Tribunal by E.ON UK Plc, who lost. Decision Notice FER0678164 is published here.
- The Decision Notice states that E.ON UK Plc is a ‘public authority’ for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. It also makes it clear that any company performing ‘public interest activities’, such as the supply of electricity or gas and having ‘special powers’ (such as compulsory purchase) to perform these activities will be subject to a duty to supply environmental information on request.
- The Upper Tribunal Administrative Appeals Chamber ruled in 2015 that water companies in England & Wales are ‘public authorities’ for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations (2004) and so are under a legal duty to disclose environmental information they hold to the public (Fish Legal v Information Commissioner & Others (GIA/0979/2011 & GIA/0980/2011) (“Fish Legal”). More here.