As the member is aware, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency published the outcome of the Irish Environmental Protection Agency’s peer review of its regulatory approach at Mossmorran on Friday 19 March. SEPA and the Scottish Government are clear that compliance with Scotland’s environmental laws is non-negotiable.
SEPA has published a detailed response to all 20 recommendations made by the review, which cover technical site recommendations, regulatory approach, community liaison, communications, monitoring and modelling. Key recommendations that will be taken forward by SEPA include extending the environmental monitoring programme with community participation in its design, enhanced visibility of regulatory monitoring results, and investment in a refreshed online community information hub. SEPA already has specialist staff involved in work at Mossmorran. In response to the peer review, it has committed to strengthening further regulation and monitoring across the forthcoming investment at the site.
After five years of highlighting the misery of communities living in the shadow of Mossmorran, I welcome the progress that has been made and pay tribute to local campaigners who kept the pressure on SEPA and the plant operators. Many of the 1,500 people who complained to SEPA last year did so because they could not sleep for days on end due to noise pollution. Will the cabinet secretary urge SEPA to set revised noise limits as part of the operator’s permit and to expand noise monitoring in the community?
I am glad that Mark Ruskell considers that there has been progress—I believe that a great deal of progress has been made. I pointed to the 20 recommendations of the independent evaluation. SEPA has accepted eight of those recommendations, nine more are currently under way, one will be considered and two are not being taken forward.
Specialist monitoring, compliance and enforcement support staff are already involved in all work at Mossmorran. As I indicated, in response to the peer review, SEPA has committed to further strengthening regulation and monitoring throughout the investment period. The issue that Mark Ruskell has raised will be part of that consideration.
I welcome that response. Although the regulatory improvements are welcome, Mossmorran remains Scotland’s third largest climate polluter, and it will be impossible for us to meet climate targets without serious and urgent action being taken at the plant. Will the Scottish Government take the word of ExxonMobil—an organisation that is responsible for climate change denial—when it comes to future plans at Mossmorran, or will it lead the discussion with the operators and the community on what a just transition for the plant should look like?
There is constant discussion within Government and between the Government and a variety of partners in different sectors of the economy on how we go forward. We are tasking individual companies with looking very carefully at their proposals with respect to a just transition. The same task is being suggested to ExxonMobil, with which I have had recent correspondence, as Mark Ruskell is aware.
Ensuring a just transition is a vital part of the work that we need to do over the next 10 years to meet our interim targets, and Mossmorran will be very much a part of the discussion about that just transition.
The Irish EPA’s recommendations on enhanced air quality monitoring and wider community engagement are very welcome. Indeed, I have been calling for such action to be taken for many years. Will the cabinet secretary confirm that the recommendations will be implemented at pace? Will she also confirm that the Scottish Government will make it clear to the operators of the site that the flaring that will apparently result from the need to shut down the plant in the weeks ahead so that upgrade work can go ahead will be kept to the bare minimum, to ensure that the least disruption to affected communities is caused?
I know that Annabelle Ewing has been closely involved in the matter for some time, and I value her constructive engagement on it. As I have indicated, work on nine of the 20 recommendations from the peer review is already under way, and SEPA has accepted a further eight of those recommendations. Recommendations that have already been taken forward include those relating specifically to air quality monitoring and community engagement. SEPA is finalising a project plan to take forward implementation of the other recommendations, including work on communications, monitoring of volatile organic compounds and modelling.
SEPA has been clear that the flaring was unacceptable and that such flaring must become the exception, rather than the routine. The Scottish Government will continue to impress upon the operators the need to minimise disruptive flaring during the forthcoming shutdown and restart process. The forthcoming £140 million investment in the site should improve reliability. Unplanned elevated flaring, with its associated impact on the local community, should become a less frequent occurrence and, when flaring is required, its impact should be reduced. That is the basis on which we are having conversations with ExxonMobil.
SEPA has indicated that the plant now has a clear pathway to compliance, but the community is still sceptical, after years of disruption and misery that have been caused by failures and flaring. What assurances can the cabinet secretary give to local residents, given that SEPA has rejected proposals to install a suitably qualified and experienced expert at the site to ensure compliance and to monitor progress on the day-to-day installation of the new low-noise flare tip?
I think that Alexander Stewart is referring to the recommendation on having a dedicated site agent, which is one of the two recommendations that SEPA is not taking forward. The fact is that SEPA already dedicates significant resources to Mossmorran—more than it does to any other single regulated site in Scotland. SEPA also gains additional expertise by working with partners, including the Health and Safety Executive, and by bringing in specialist technical expertise when needed.
The site agent recommendation is not being pursued. Although SEPA can see that there might be benefit in deploying a site agent at other sites, it does not consider that a site agent would add value at Mossmorran. SEPA currently reviews permits in line with the process that is set out in the Pollution Prevention and Control (Scotland) Regulations 2012. SEPA will assess its supporting guidance to ensure that it is clear what criteria are used to decide when a permit review is required. However, at this point, SEPA does not consider that a dedicated site agent is a necessary or appropriate response.
The Presiding Officer:
That concludes topical questions. Before we move on to the next item of business, I remind all members that, if you are coming in and out of the chamber, the guidance is to use the same seat. If you change seats, please use the wipes that are available to wipe down the desk and chair beforehand.