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Media Release: Air quality in the spotlight in Parliament

28 October 2014 at 8:49 am

39262FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Cape Town. On 28 October 2014, representatives from five environmental justice organisations – groundWork, the Centre for Environmental Rights, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance and the Highveld Environmental Justice Network – will meet with the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs to discuss groundWork’s recent report on the failing governance and dangerous state of air quality in the country.

Last month, groundWork and its legal and community-based partners released Slow Poison: Air pollution, public health and failing governance, a report highlighting the little to no gains made in fighting poor air quality in South Africa and how we have got to this point. The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) recognised the legitimacy of the report’s findings at their annual Air Quality Lekgotla held in Durban on 6-8 October 2014. The parliamentary hearing has been called for in the wake of the public interest in the report, which was extensively covered by the media.

This comes at a time when the Department is facing pressure from the country’s big emitters, such as Eskom and Sasol, as a result of stricter minimum emission standards coming into force next year. Eskom continues to push the Department to grant it exemption (in the form of “rolling postponements”) for 14 of its coal-fired power stations; which, if it succeeds, would create an ever greater health burden for those living in the Highveld and Waterberg-Bojanala Priority Areas. Sasol and Natref are currently taking the Department to court, seeking to set aside the majority of these minimum emission standards.

Robyn Hugo, attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights, explains that the companies are “aiming to set aside most of South Africa’s hard-won air pollution regulations for big industry. One of the arguments they make is that the benefits of legal compliance are not worth the costs of adhering to the law designed to limit dangerous emissions from South Africa’s biggest polluters.”

The organisations support the DEA in countering industry’s pushback on air quality standards and will call on the portfolio committee to:

  • Intervene in the process by industry to seek exemptions/postponements from the minimum emission standards, which standards are required to protect human health.
  • Require the Department, licensing authorities and industries to make their atmospheric emission licences publicly available.
  • Significantly improve air quality compliance monitoring and enforcement.
  • Improve priority area management, by ensuring that priority area meetings such as implementation task team (ITT) and multi-stakeholder reference group (MSRG) meetings are collaborative, structured and run effectively, in order to meet the air quality management plan (AQMP) goals.

According to groundWork’s Director, Bobby Peek, the reasons for the organisations’ demands are that “if Eskom and corporations are allowed postponement from the minimum emission standards which are protective of health, our democratically elected representatives will be failing South Africans by allowing Eskom and corporations such as Sasol to act with ‘legal’ impunity”.

  • 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
  • The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) is a non-profit company and law clinic based in Cape Town, South Africa. 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

CONTACTS

Megan Lewis, groundWork – Media and Communications Campaigner Tel (w): 033 342 5662 Tel (m): 083 450 5541 Email: [email protected]

Bobby Peek, groundWork – Director Tel (w): 033 342 5662 Tel (m): 082 464 1383 Email: [email protected]