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DIRTY AIR ANALYSIS

Sasol wins appeal over how sulphur dioxide emissions are measured at its Secunda plant

Sasol wins appeal over how sulphur dioxide emissions are measured at its Secunda plant
Sasol’s Secunda coal-to-liquids plant in Mpumalanga. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Petrochemicals giant and heavyweight polluter Sasol has won an appeal over how sulphur dioxide emissions are measured at its Secunda plant. This has raised the ire of shareholder activist group Just Share, but markets applauded the development, sending Sasol’s share price sharply higher.

The dispute is over how sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions are calculated at the 17 coal-fired boilers at Sasol’s Secunda operations.

Last year, the National Air Quality Officer (NAQO) declined Sasol’s application that these be measured on an alternative emission-load basis rather than concentration-based limits, with the regulations to come into effect from 1 April next year. 

“Sasol is requesting that instead of reducing the SO2 per boiler (concentration), it will reduce (turn down) the total number of boilers (load) to achieve the same or better result,” Sasol said last year when it submitted an appeal to Environment Minister Barbara Creecy in response to the NAQO decision.

Sasol said on Monday that the minister had upheld its appeal, allowing Sasol’s emissions to be regulated on a load basis.

“The Minister… replaced the NAQO’s decision by permitting that load-based limits be applied from 1 April 2025 up to 31 March 2030. We will engage with the Minister to finalise the regulatory requirements for the decision to take full effect, following which our atmospheric emission licence will have to be varied accordingly,” Sasol said in a Sens announcement. 

The news removed a piece of regulatory uncertainty over the company’s operations and Sasol’s share price shot up more than 6% on Monday.

Not everyone is convinced this will have the effect that Sasol claims it will. 

Activist outrage

Activist shareholder group Just Share said the decision would lead to higher emissions and allowed Sasol to dictate public pollution policy.

“The Minister’s upholding of Sasol’s appeal will result in emissions significantly above those permitted by the minimum emission standards, which are already weaker than comparative standards around the world.

“The negative air quality and health impacts of these emissions are significant,” Just Share said in a statement

“This decision means that the government has permitted a private company to set its own pollution limits, making a mockery of pollution laws and constitutional rights, and of any claim by the government to take public health seriously,” it said.

Sasol is the largest private-sector carbon emitter in Africa after Eskom, but it has pledged to slash its emissions.

Not all shareholders are convinced it can make its target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030.

Old Mutual and asset manager Ninety One both voted against the company’s climate change management approach at its AGM in January. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Former Sasol employees challenge petrochemical giant on environmental compliance at AGM

Expect more bruising battles over Sasol’s environmental policies. DM

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