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Media Release: Vaal environmental organisation takes ArcelorMittal South Africa to court for withholding records

May 31, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Joburg High CourtFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance
Centre for Environmental Rights
groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa)

Vanderbijlpark, Gauteng, Friday, 31 May 2013 – The David and Goliath battle between environmental organisation Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) [1] and ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA) [2] continues, this time in the South Gauteng High Court on 3 June 2013. This Monday, VEJA will implore the court to set aside AMSA’s decision to refuse to grant the organisation’s requests through the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (PAIA) for access to certain records relating to the company’s Environmental Master Plan and ‘Vaal Disposal Site’ [3].

VEJA’s first request, made in 2011, was for a copy of AMSA’s Environmental Master Plan (‘the Master Plan’) [4], developed by the company for rehabilitation of its Vanderbijlpark site, together with any progress reports relating to its implementation. Last year, VEJA’s second request sought records relating to the closure and rehabilitation of AMSA’s so-called ‘Vaal Disposal Site’, situated in Vereeniging, after the company had illegally dumped hazardous waste [5].

Representing various communities around the Vaal Triangle Airshed Priority Area Vaal Triangle (VTAPA) [6], VEJA made these requests to PAIA on the basis that:

…these documents are necessary for the protection of the section 24 constitutional rights and are requested in the public interest. VEJA requires the requested documents to ensure that ArcelorMittal South Africa Limited carries out its obligations under the relevant legislation, including the National Management Act 107 of 1998, the National Environmental Management: Waste Act of 59 of 2008, and the National Water Act 36 of 1998.

AMSA, however, denied VEJA access to these documents citing that the organisation is attempting to set up a parallel enforcement agency when there is no evidence that the state is unable to ensure compliance and protection of the environment.

Samson Mokoena, Coordinator at the VEJA, states: “It is our Constitutional right to be aware of the activities of AMSA to be able to know how they are impacting on our health and environment. As communities, we are failing to understand that if such a company is claiming to be responsible, why it would not want to share its plans with us”.

This push for increased transparency and accountability from AMSA has been an on-going struggle for the VEJA. The organisation has continued, as an active body within civil society, to fight for its right to gain access to critical information in order to improve environmental governance and protect the health of communities in the Vaal.

Attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) [7], Robyn Hugo, explains the importance of the case: “This case has the potential to set an important legal precedent that, under the Constitution and PAIA, companies like AMSA are accountable to the communities affected by the environmental impacts of their operations. Communities have the right to know what these impacts are, and whether AMSA is in compliance with the law”.

On Monday, the VEJA and the people of the Vaal will picket outside the South Gauteng High Court.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] The Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) is a voluntary association of non-governmental and community-based organisations that advocates for a healthy environment and sustainable development in “the Vaal Triangle”.  This is an area of heavy industry and mining in the south of Gauteng, in which two of ArcelorMittal’s major steel-plants are situated, namely its Vanderbijlpark and Vereeniging sites.

[2] “ArcelorMittal SA wants waiver on pollution rules” – Business Day Live – 19 April 2013. Accessed at http://www.bdlive.co.za/business/industrials/2013/04/19/arcelormittal-sa-wants-waiver-on-pollution-rules

[3] Access copies of all court papers related to this case at: http://cer.org.za/programmes/transparency/litigation (under case 4)

[4] The Master Plan is a comprehensive strategy document, developed by Iscor from 2000 to 2002 (and apparently since updated or amended), which details the results of numerous specialist environmental tests for pollution levels at the Iscor/ArcelorMittal plants, and sets out the company’s plan to alleviate pollution and rehabilitate its work sites over a 20-year period.  The initial estimated cost of implementing the Master Plan was approximately R1.3 billion. However a recent media report, dated 3rd June 2011 estimates the cost of the Master Plan projects to be closer to R5 billion. For more information, access pages 56 and 57 at this link: http://cer.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Founding-Papers-part-1.pdf

[5] The Vaal Disposal Site is not licensed for hazardous waste to be dumped. AMSA’s illegal action prompted the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to take enforcement action in May 2007. The relevant page from the 2010-11 National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Report, which details the findings of AMSA’s non-compliance at this site, is available at page 61 of this link: http://cer.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Founding-Papers-part-2.pdf

[6] The National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act (NEM:AQA), No 39 of 2004, which came into full operation on April 1, 2010, is the instrument through which the South African government manages air quality issues. Priority areas may be declared if ambient air quality standards are being exceeded or any other situation exists which, in the opinion of the Environmental Affairs Minister or the relevant Members of the Executive Council responsible for air quality matters in a particular province, is, or may cause, a significant negative impact on air quality, and the area requires specific air quality management action to rectify the situation.

[7] The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) is a non-profit company and law clinic based in Cape Town, South Africa. The Centre was established in October 2009 by eight civil society organisations (CSOs) in South Africa’s environmental and environmental justice sector to provide legal and related support to environmental CSOs and communities. The Centre’s vision is a South Africa where every person’s Constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to health or well-being, and to have the environment protected for future generations, is fully realised. Its mission is to advance the realisation of environmental rights as guaranteed in the South African Constitution by providing support and legal representation to civil society organisations and communities who wish to protect their environmental rights, and by engaging in legal research, advocacy and litigation to achieve strategic change. www.cer.org.za

[8] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working with community people from around South Africa, and increasingly Southern Africa, on environmental justice and human rights issues focusing on Air Quality, Climate and Energy Justice, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Friends of the Earth International www.groundwork.org.za

CONTACTS:

Samson Mokoena, Coordinator at the VEJA: +27 (0) 16 933 9079 / +27 (0) 84 291 8510 / samson.mokoena@gmail.com

Robyn Hugo, Attorney at CER: +27 (0) 28 312 2746 / +27 (0) 82 389 4357 / rhugo@cer.org.za

Melissa Fourie, Executive Director at CER: + 27 (0) 21 447 1647 / mfourie@cer.org.za

Section 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996

Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

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