SEPA intends to operate its fresh powers beneath the 2014 Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act to “encourage and support” those businesses that choose to depart beyond their basic responsibilities beneath environmental laws, while at the same period taking firm action against non-compliance, according to its fresh ‘strategy for 21st century regulation’ (12-leaf / 698KB PDF).

“By identifying where individual businesses and industry can depart beyond compliance, Scotland has the unique opportunity to set the trend on a global scale,” said Terry A’Hearn, SEPA’s chief executive.

“There are huge economic incentives for going beyond basic compliance. Especially as pressure on our current resources becomes greater, it will ultimately be businesses that are more sustainable that will persevere to thrive, helping to create mire lasting and inclusive growth in Scotland,” he said.

Planning and environmental law expert Gordon McCreath of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, described the fresh strategy as “yet another fundamental shift for environmental regulation in Scotland”.

“The term that keeps coming up is ‘assist’,” he said. “SEPA’s occupation is no longer proper to ‘wield the stick’ – it is to assist regulated persons depart beyond compliance, advising and working in partnership with them at a senior level. Larger organisations should be thinking about who at board or senior management level will engage with SEPA; while industry bodies will crave to plan to construct the most of the opportunity to influence SEPA’s sector plans on how they will regulate and ‘assist’ them.”

“But what happens if you don’t let yourself be helped? If businesses don’t permit themselves to be helped to depart beyond compliance, will the ‘stick’ reappear and the standard of compliance proper be tightened instead? In the fresh enforcement framework, there is already provision for SEPA to only approve enforcement undertakings that depart beyond compliance. This fresh strategy suggests that we perhaps well see more of that approach,” he said.

Passed in January 2014, the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act gave SEPA a fresh statutory purpose: to protect and improve the environment in ways that, as far as possible, create both health and well-being benefits and sustainable economic growth. The fresh strategy document sets out how SEPA will develop “a range of fresh regulatory tools” with which to deliver this objective.

SEPA intends to grab a proportionate and effective approach to enforcement, while at the same period phasing in the practical operate of the fresh enforcement powers granted to it beneath the Act. These include the ability to issue fixed and variable monetary penalties of up to £40,000 in relation to environmental crimes without having to grab offenders to court, as well as the power to accept voluntary ‘enforcement undertakings’ from offenders committed to changing their behaviour in a wider range of circumstances.

The regulator intends to develop ‘sector plans’ covering each of the business areas that it regulates, which will set out what it expects of those businesses and what businesses can expect of SEPA. These plans will focus on “practical ways of delivering environmental, social and economic benefits”, the regulator said.

As portion of its fresh approach, SEPA intends to increasingly interact with businesses at “the most senior levels, as this is where the most important business decisions are made”. It will develop voluntary, but formal, ‘sustainable growth agreements’ (SGAs) through which “influential” businesses will be capable to deliver “clear practical actions” for the benefit of the environment with agreed support from SEPA. The regulator intends to own signed three of these by the complete of the current financial year, according to the strategy document.

The fresh approach will require SEPA to labor collaboratively with businesses at both the individual and industry level in order to “drive and support innovation”, according to the document.

“We believe this is a unique and visionary approach, which will transform SEPA into a truly globe class environmental protection agency, and Scotland into single of the first places in the globe to be home to a genuinely 21st century environmental regulator,” it said.