Environmental groups reacted skeptically when Thérèse Coffey unveiled a plan to clean up rivers, air and landscape.
The environment secretary said she "don't care" about sewage when the sweeping plan was introduced, but only promised to end discharges into rivers and the coast by 2050.
The Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP) is the first update of a 25-year program created in 2018.
The EIP covers everything from clean water to air pollution, biosecurity to green finance and is "a state-wide plan," the environment minister said.
However, environmental groups questioned whether enough detail was included on how the goals would actually be achieved and where the funding would come from.
"Government should stop fantasizing about targets and apply the law as it is," said Charles Clover, executive director of the Blue Marine Foundation.I, adding that the government's failure to meet previous targets creates a "major and growing credibility problem".
IsState of British Waterwaysand the coasts and infrastructure designed to keep them clean have dogged Defra for years, with criticism mounting over the past year. However, Ms Coffey insisted the issue was a priority for her.
"I really give it an S, asterisk, asterisk, T," joked the Environment Minister during her speech.
The goal is to eliminate all storm overflows, including sewage, by 2050 and those in bathing water and sensitive areas by 2035. Defra is also working to channel fines from water companies directly to environmental projects.
However, much of the detail here comes simply from a plan released last summer to end storm drain, which requires water companies to invest £56billion over 25 years to end storm drain.
Greenpeace UK has been scathing about the plan. Doug Parr, the group's policy director, said: "Ministers want to crack down on double-flush toilets while allowing water companies to dump tons of raw sewage into our rivers and seas."
"It's just not enough to craft a litany of long-term goals with flimsy but headline-grabbing strategies and hope the voting public won't notice the big holes in the middle of the plan," he added.
Under the EIP, Ms Coffey has pledged to upgrade 160 wastewater treatment plants to tackle nutrient pollution from waterways and force water companies to reduce spills by 50 per cent by 2050.
The EIP also includes ambitious targets to reduce domestic water use by 20 percent. It promises to do so with programs such as including new water efficiency labels similar to those on appliances, as well as fixing leaky toilets and "confusing" double flush buttons.
However, how water companies manage to reduce leakage will depend on Ofwat, which must strike a balance between low prices for consumers and infrastructure costs. The EIP makes no mention of water meters, one of the most effective ways to reduce water demand.
Pollution of waterways by farmers is also examined in the EIP.
Defra will aim to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sedimentsagricultural pollution40 percent from 2018 levels by 2048. Runoff from agriculture can cause algal blooms, which then deprive rivers of oxygen and fill them with toxins.
As with many government goals, the question is how to get there. The EIP is delaying most of its ambitions (expected to reduce agricultural runoff by just 10 percent by 2028) in the hope that an "S-shaped trajectory" will see it meet the 2048 target.
"That always makes political sense, doesn't it?" Craig Bennett, chief executive of Wildlife Trusts, saidI. "Long-term goals are fine, but you need flexible short-term goals that show you how to get there."
This, ministers hope, will be fueled by greater acceptance of their ownPost-EU agricultural subsidy system, but registrations have been low so far, with fewer than 2,000 establishments out of 200,000 applying so far.
The same subsidies are also used to help farmers reduce their exposure to ammonia and their dependence on pesticides, encourage a transition to nature-based solutions, and increase biodiversity on farms.
One focus of the EIP is combating air pollution. The UK regularly misses the World Health Organization's air pollution targets and Ms Coffey has been drawn into the ranks of local councils to see if they have the power to enforce clean air standards.
The Environment Secretary acknowledged that it would not be possible for England to meet microparticulate pollution targets by 2030 and so set a target for 2040. But she insisted councils had sufficient powers to tackle the problem .
Instead of new tools, municipalities will be “challenged” to improve air quality faster and will be tested on how they use existing powers.
Although she refused to give new powers, Ms Coffey said Defra will support councils to establish more clean air zones where air pollution is justified. These allow municipalities to charge for the most polluting vehicles.
However, Defra has said it will introduce stricter standards for eco-friendly wood stoves in smoke control areas covering most of England's major cities. However, this only applies to new stoves and will do little to helpTackling Britain's main source of airborne particles.
When asked about itISpeaking of how setting stricter standards for new stoves would help tackle pollution from existing appliances, Ms Coffey said, "I have called for increasing our wood burning, [the] type of advertising and information practices that we have been doing."
He said it was about educating people and insisted he would not ban wood burning. Experts remain skeptical as current regulations focus on smoke rather than particulate matter.
The EIP's remarkable promise is that everyone in England will live within 15 minutes' walk of a 'green or blue area'.
It also pledged to create 25 new or expanded national nature reserves. This is part of a broader target of placing 30 per cent of Britain's land and sea under conservation by 2030.
The goal was widely praised by conservation groups, but many wondered how it would be achieved. Dom Higgins of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts said the pledge must be enshrined in law or "very little will change".
One of the main issues in the EIP process is the on hold EU draft law under which the government intends to do thisAbolition of thousands of European lawsuntil the end of the year.
Ms Coffey insisted that while many of the laws were not relevant to the UK, all that were would be retained by default.
Environmental groups remain skeptical. "You can't give the bank warm assurances," Bennett said.I, and asked Ms. Coffey to "give us a clear list of those we will keep and those we won't keep".
He warned that the work required to do this would slow down Defra in crucial months when it should be working to implement its nature goals, a concern shared by Jeff Knott, the RSPB's policy director.
The success of the EIP also depends on how much money ministers are willing to invest, he said.I, but promised it would be "embedded in the whole government and that it's not just a Defra thing".