Rob Edwards | The Ferret
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has been repeatedly wined and dined by the fish farming, whisky and power industries, prompting questions to be raised about its impartiality.
Information released by Sepa reveals that 13 board members and senior officials have been treated to 16 meals over the last two years. Five were paid for by fish farming firms, three by the whisky industry, three by power companies and five by other business groups.
Pollution from caged salmon farms, whisky distilleries and power plants is regulated by Sepa, and has caused multiple problems in the past. The Ferret has reported how Sepa bowed to pressure from the fish farming industry to drop a proposed ban on a toxic pesticide harming wildlife in sea lochs.
Critics have accused Sepa of being “schmoozed” by polluters and are demanding a shake-up. Sepa, however, insists its engagement with companies is “entirely appropriate” and strongly defends its impartiality and independence.
The way Sepa regulates fish farming is undergoing a major review, with deep divisions between industry and environmentalists on the way forward. The industry is planning to double its business from £1.8 billion in 2016 to £3.6 billion by 2030.
In March 2017 Sepa board member, Bill McKelvey, and Sepa’s then head of regulatory services in the north, Anne Anderson, attended an anniversary dinner hosted by the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), which represents fish farmers.
Anderson was also given breakfast by two fish farming companies in June 2017, Marine Harvest and Loch Duart Salmon. Sepa’s chief executive, Terry A’Hearn, was given dinner by SSPO in November 2015 and April 2016.
Seven whisky distilleries were rated as “poor” for pollution by Sepa in 2014, as were four in 2015. In November 2016 and 2017 four senior Sepa officials attended annual dinners of the Malt Distillers Association of Scotland at a hotel in Elgin.
On 9 November 2017 Sepa’s chairman, Bob Downes and a senior Sepa official were the guests of the Scotch Whisky Association for dinner at the Macallan distillery in Aberlour. This followed a two-day visit looking at the industry’s energy generation and conservation schemes.
The coal-fired power station at Longannet in Fife was by far the most polluting plant in Scotland before it closed down in March 2016. In May 2016 Sepa’s head of operations in the east of Scotland, Lin Bunten, and another senior Sepa official were the guests of the plant’s operator, Scottish Power, at a Longannet memorial dinner in Stirling Castle.
Bunten was also the guest of Scottish Power Renewables for dinner in June 2016 and of the industry group, Scottish Renewables, at an awards dinner in May 2017. Other Sepa officials declared dinners from the waste company Viridor, the pro-business Scottish Council Development and Industry, and others (see table below).