26 June 2018 at 9:00 am
Most of Eskom’s ageing coal power stations cause severe air pollution, which contribute to the deaths and ill-health of thousands of South Africans every year.
Despite this, Eskom has thus far been let off the hook by government – not only allowing them to postpone their compliance with air pollution standards, but failing to take enforcement action against Eskom for its pollution.
Now, the Department of Environmental Affairs has finally proposed closing some of these loopholes.
Proposed amendments to law published under the Air Quality Act will only permit one postponement of compliance – for five years – with standards which should be met by April 2020 (called “new plant” standards).
The new provisions would allow industrial facilities, by 31 March 2019, to apply for a once-off suspension of compliance timeframes with new plant standards if they provide a clear schedule for decommissioning by 2030.
The new rules would mean that all of Eskom’s stations must make the necessary investments in time to comply with new plant standards by 1 April 2025, unless they have been granted the suspension, and will decommission by not later than 2030. If they cannot meet the standards by this date and have not been granted a suspension, they can no longer operate.
Robby Mokgalaka, Coal Campaign Manager for environmental justice organisation groundWork, says: “Finally, the Department of Environmental Affairs seems to be listening to the pleas of communities who breathe these toxic fumes every day. Health research shows that just one type of pollution from Eskom’s stations causes the death of more than 2200 people every year.”
Robyn Hugo, Head of the Centre for Environmental Rights’ Pollution and Climate Change Programme, welcomed the proposed amendments, saying that the Life After Coal Campaign has been advocating for stricter pollution rules for coal power plants for many years. “So far, Eskom’s strategy has simply been to apply for what it terms ‘rolling postponements’ of compliance with pollution standards: re-applying for postponements of compliance every five years until the plants are eventually decommissioned. That head-in-the-sand strategy must now come to an end.”
However, Hugo points out that concerns remain: facilities granted this suspension will, on the current proposed wording of the legislation, be permitted to comply with the very weak old plant standards until their decommissioning. “This would mean that government would simply allow Eskom to keep polluting and causing ill-health and death of South Africans. This is an ongoing violation of human rights which the Life After Coal Campaign, together with communities living with Eskom’s pollution, will take to the Constitutional Court, if necessary.”
- The draft amendments
- The List of activities which result in atmospheric emissions which have or may have a significant detrimental effect on the environment, including health, social conditions, economic conditions, ecological conditions or cultural heritage GN 893 in GG 37054 on 22 November 2013
- Life After Coal campaign comments on the draft amendments, submitted on 25 June 2018
- Health impacts of Eskom’s coal power plants: Air pollution from coal power stations causes disease and kills thousands of South Africans every year, says UK expert
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