The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) said its client, groundWork, had launched high court proceedings against the Environmental Affairs Minister in a bid to have the government’s plan to weaken legislation controlling SO2 emissions set aside.
The CER said on Monday that the weakened standards for SO2 that government had introduced in October were about 10 times weaker than those in India and about 28 times weaker than those in China.
The minimum emission standards for SO2 applies to all large-scale coal-fired installations, including Sasol’s coal boilers, Eskom’s coal-fired power stations and other industries such as Mondi and Sappi.
At the heart of groundWork’s legal challenge is that Environmental Affairs made the changes to the air pollution legislation without first publishing them for comment, as the law requires.
Robyn Hugo of CER said the new minimum emission standards would come into effect in April next year.
“We need these changes set aside. Any changes to minimum emission standards have to be published for public comment. DEA proposed changes to the legislation in May last year, but they didn’t say they were going to change the minimum emission standards for coal-fired boilers,” Hugo said.
Bobby Peek, director of groundWork, said for years civil society, particularly in Durban South, had had to do its own sampling to show government the extent of air pollution.
“We were doing what government should have been doing. This led to the Air Quality Act, and we fought for minimum emissions standards and we got them. Now the DEA decided behind closed doors to double the standards, and not to speak to the public to get input,” Peek said.
Sulphur dioxide is a colourless, stinky gas emitted by burning fossil fuels. Its effect on health depends on the concentration of the gas in the air, and ranges from irritating the skin, eyes, nose, throat and lungs to exacerbating asthma and affecting lung function.
Peek said air pollution from coal mining and power generation was “already killing thousands of people every year in places like the Mpumalanga Highveld”.
“Instead of enforcing compliance with our already weak standards, government now wants to weaken standards even further. If government doesn’t defend the right to a healthy environment, we have no option but to ask the court to do so,” Peek said.
Eskom said in a submission to Parliament last year that it estimated that air pollution from its coal power stations was likely to cause 330 deaths a year.
Industries have argued that the high cost of fitting new equipment on plants to reduce SO2 emissions does not result in sufficient benefits to warrant the expense.
Several of Eskom’s coal power stations are reaching the end of their lifespans and are facing decommissioning.
Sasol and Eskom applied to the DEA for exemption from the minimum emission standards but these were not granted, so they applied for postponements for complying with the legislation.
CER said with groundWork, the Life After Coal Campaign and Earthlife Africa, they had opposed industry efforts to “delay and avoid” meeting air pollution standards.
The state attorney has said Minister Mokonyane will reply to CER’s papers by the end of May.
He did not indicate whether the minister would oppose the action. DM
Want to watch Richard Poplak’s audition for SA’s Got Talent?
Who doesn’t? Alas, it was removed by the host site for prolific swearing*... Now that we’ve got your attention, we thought we’d take the opportunity to talk to you about the small matter of book burning and freedom of speech.
Since its release, Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book Gangster State, has sparked numerous fascist-like behavior from certain members of the public (and the State). There have been planned book burnings, disrupted launches and Ace Magashule has openly called him a liar. And just to say thanks, a R10m defamation suit has been lodged against the author.
Pieter-Louis Myburgh is our latest Scorpio Investigative journalist recruit and we’re not going to let him and his crucial book be silenced. When the Cape Town launch was postponed, Maverick Insider stepped in and relocated it to a secure location so that Pieter-Louis’ revelations could be heard by the public. If we’ve learnt one thing over the past ten years it is this: when anyone tries to infringe on our constitutional rights, we have to fight back. Every day, our journalists are uncovering more details and evidence of State Capture and its various reincarnations. The rot is deep and the threats, like this recent one to freedom of speech, are real. You can support the cause by becoming an Insider and help free the speech that can make a difference.
*No video of Richard Poplak auditioning for SA’s Got Talent actually exists. Unless it does and we don’t know about it please send it through.
Sushi is traditionally eaten by hand and not with chopsticks.