Scotland’s environmental watchdog to wield tougher powers

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) is to be given new powers to combat water pollution under new proposals issued for public consultation by the Scottish Executive.

The proposals would give SEPA the power to force those discharging sewage and other effluent to comply with their conditions of consent, where the consent is being breached or the Agency believes that a breach is likely.

The new powers differ from previous measures because they can be used to require action by dischargers before pollution occurs, for example, a company’s failure to comply with a maintenance programme which could lead to a future breach of consent conditions. SEPA would be able to supply an Enforcement Notice requiring verifiable reinstatement of the maintenance plan.

“The Scottish Executive is committed to improving our wastewater treatment systems by carrying through a major programme of investment,” said Sarah Boyack, Scottish Minister for Transport and the Environment. “That financial injection is also directed to our goal of bringing Scotland’s 60 designated bathing beaches up to European standards.”

“Hand in hand with this commitment must be a determination to come down hard on polluters,” said Boyack. “There is no point in investing heavily in public infrastructure only to allow that benefit to be undermined by the flouting of carefully agreed consents.”

“Boyack is clearly moving in the right direction,” said Robin Harper, Member of the Scottish Parliament for the Green Party. “I am glad to see that they can serve Enforcement Notices. I would like to see them given the power to prosecute.”

Other measures that would aid SEPA, says Harper, include better training for magistrates and judges, not only in environmental law, but also in the seriousness of pollution so that appropriately heavy fines are handed down to offenders. The SEPA also needs power over bore holes, said Harper, pointing out that Scotland is much like a pincushion, with no authority checking whether bore holes are polluted, nor their effect on catchments.

Two other sets of regulations which are designed to aid SEPA in their battle against pollution are currently being prepared following consultation earlier this year:

  • the Anti-pollution Works (Scotland) Regulations 2000 will allow SEPA to force those responsible for a premises polluting or threatening to pollute waterways to clean up or take preventative action;
  • the Control of Pollution (Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil) (Scotland) Regulations 2000 which will introduce measures to address silage and slurry pollution.

“Enforcement Notices form part of a series of measures which we have in hand to strengthen the powers of SEPA to protect and improve the water environment,” said Boyack.

The consultation document Water Pollution Enforcement Notices, is available from the Scottish Executive website (requires Adobe Acrobat Four), or from Linda Galbraith, Area 1-H, The Scottish Executive, Environmental Protection Unit, Victoria Quay, Edinburgh EH6 6QQ, tel: 0131 244 0386, email: [email protected].

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