July 23, 2015 at 3:09 pm
The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) today represented Highveld communities in their legal challenge of the Nkangala District Municipality (NDM’s) decision to relax the pollution limits of two Eskom coal-fired power stations.
NDM Executive Mayor, Thomas Ngwenya, heard the CER’s appeal – delivered on behalf of the Highveld Environmental Justice Network (HEJN), groundWork, and Earthlife Africa Johannesburg – in respect of the air emission licences of Eskom’s Komati and Hendrina stations.
The CER argued in Middelburg, Mpumalanga that allowing the stations to emit more harmful pollutants* than permitted by SA’s Air Quality Act**, directly harms the health of local residents and therefore violates their Constitutional rights.
Robyn Hugo, CER Attorney and Programme Head: Pollution & Climate Change, said: “The CER, HEJN, groundwork and Earthlife Africa support the Highveld communities in their efforts to hold the local authority to account. The NDM has a responsibility to help protect the health of the communities it serves. Instead, it has shown a clear disregard for the people of this already heavily-polluted area. Due to the potentially dire consequences to people’s health, the NDM’s decisions cannot be left unchallenged.”
* includes particulate matter (PM), sulphur dioxide (S02) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx)
** National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act (NEMAQA)
In February 2015, the Department of Environmental Affairs granted several industries a five year reprieve from stricter air pollution law – the so-called minimum emission standards. Among these was Eskom for 16 of its power stations – 12 of which are located on Mpumalanga Highveld.
While the postponement may save Eskom money, it endangers the health of people who live in the vicinity of the polluting facilities. All Eskom’s coal-fired power stations are located in areas which the Minister of Environmental Affairs has already declared “priority areas” because of their high levels of air pollution, which exceeds the standards set to protect human health.
12 of Eskom’s coal-fired power stations, including Komati and Hendrina, fall within the Highveld Priority Area (HPA).
Although the HPA was declared nearly eight years ago due to the high levels of pollution in the air, and an air quality management plan was prepared in order to reduce pollution to levels that do not harm human health, air quality health standards in the area continue to be consistently exceeded. As a result, communities continue to be exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution with potentially dire impacts on their health.
In 2014, an expert report calculated that granting Eskom’s applications for postponement would result in about 20,000 premature deaths, over the remaining life of the power plants – including that of approximately 1,600 young children – and a projected loss of 280,000 IQ points due to mercury exposure. The economic cost associated with the premature deaths, and the neurotoxic effects of mercury exposure, was estimated at R230 billion. (Source: http://cer.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Annexure-5_Health-impacts-of-Eskom-applications-2014-_final.pdf)
Although the law does allow for the granting of postponements for compliance with the minimum emission standards, many postponements should not have been granted in light of the devastating health impacts and the already serious and prevailing air quality problems in the areas Eskom’s coal-fired power stations are located, and the Highveld in particular.
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About the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER)
The CER is a non-profit organisation and an environmental rights law firm that helps communities defend their right to a healthy environment. It does this by advocating and litigating for transparency, accountability and compliance with environmental laws. For more information, visit http://cer.org.za/.