We have frequently criticised the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) in recent months, and with good reason. The watchdog has looked seriously in danger of losing its bite.

Sepa decided to withdraw a proposed ban on a toxic pesticide polluting 45 sea lochs after a complaint from the fish farming industry. It has invited the whisky industry onto interview panels to help appoint senior staff. There was a worry that the regulatory agency was getting too close to the companies it was meant to regulate. It was becoming too business-friendly, some said.

These are real concerns, not to be lightly dismissed. Nevertheless it is very comforting to hear what Sepa’s chief executive, Terry A’Hearn, has now said in an interview with the Sunday Herald.

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For the companies that break the rules, Sepa is going to be “the toughest, nastiest regulator that you can get”, he told us. Businesses have been warned: “If you screw up, we will beat you up.”

Regulation means balance, and when it comes to the environment, the formula should be to encourage business to grow, create wealth, and increase jobs, while simultaneously protecting nature.

Sepa is also launching a new bid to try and encourage businesses to use fewer natural resources and create less waste and pollution. Those that fail to respect the environmental limits 'imposed by the planet' will ultimately go out of business, A’Hearn has warned.

These are strong words and big ambitions, and will be welcomed by many. The global threat posed by climate change is sufficiently serious to justify the kind of changes that Sepa is asking for.

It really doesn’t make sense for industries to carry on trashing nature as they have traditionally done. If they ruthlessly exploit finite resources, there will be payback, and we will all be worse off.

We can’t go on disgorging endless carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, knowing that it is causing climate chaos. The storms, floods, droughts and global disruption it will bring could trigger major economic instability.

We can’t, for that matter, carry on polluting our sea lochs and assume that there will be no price to pay. The pesticides meant to kill the sea lice that plague caged salmon also kill crustaceans and therefore destabilise the ecosystem.

Today, Sepa deserves applause, though perhaps not yet a standing ovation. We will have to wait and see whether A’Hearn’s vision actually pans out. In the end it’s not words that count, but actions. We’ll be watching.