4 July 2019

Environment group mounts court challenge to coal power plant pollution licence renewals

The NSW Nature Conservation Council has launched legal action challenging the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA) renewal of pollution licences for Vales Point, Eraring and Mt Piper coal-fired power stations. [1]

“We are taking legal action to protect communities and the environment in the Hunter, Central Coast and Lithgow from toxic pollution from coal-fired power stations and to make the EPA act lawfully,” Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said. 

“Coal-fired power stations are among the most toxic industrial facilities in the state, yet the EPA allows NSW power stations to emit air pollution at levels that would not be allowed in the United States. 

“When renewing pollution licences, the EPA is legally required to consider measures available to prevent or control pollution, protect the environment and honour the principles of ecologically sustainable development. [2]

“The EPA appears to have failed to meet this requirement because it did not strengthen emissions standards or require the use of harm-reduction technologies used in other countries. 

“The NSW Government is letting these facilities emit toxins at levels that would not be allowed in the United States. People in NSW deserve better.”

Vales Point, Eraring and Mt Piper power stations emit 160,000 tonnes of toxic air pollution every year, including heavy metals (lead, arsenic, mercury), sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particles (PM2.5s and PM10s).

Dr Ben Ewald spokesperson for Doctors for the Environment Australia said: ‘’Pollution from coal-fired power stations in NSW leads to large health burdens. Every year that coal-fired power stations keep polluting there are 279 premature deaths, 361 people develop diabetes, and 233 babies are born underweight.” 

Ms Smolski said if the owners and operators of these coal-fired power stations were required to adopt available pollution control measures, sulphur dioxide emissions could be reduced by up to 99%. 

“The NSW Government estimates air pollution leads to an estimated $6.4 billion in health costs in the NSW Greater Metropolitan Region, a cost borne by local communities,” she said. [3]

“It shouldn’t be left to coal companies to decide whether they want to implement this technology - the EPA must require it.”

The Nature Conservation Council is being represented in this action by public interest environmental lawyers Environmental Justice Australia.

About the action

The council is seeking a judicial review of the EPA’s renewal of the pollution licences, i.e. it will seek to establish that the EPA’s renewal of the pollution licences was not done in accordance with the requirements of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act. 

References

[1]  NSW EPA decision on coal-fired power station licence review, Environmental Justice Australia, January 2019  

[2] Section 45 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act requires the EPA to consider a variety of matters before issuing Environmental Protection Licences, including practical measures operators could take to prevent, control, abate or mitigate pollution and to protect the environment from harm.

[3] Consultation paper: Clean Air for NSW 2016

 

Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 

S.3 “… have regard to the principles of ecologically sustainable development.”

S.45 Matters to be taken into consideration in licensing functions

 … the appropriate regulatory authority is required to take into consideration …

 (d) the practical measures that could be taken:

(i) to prevent, control, abate or mitigate that pollution, and

(ii) to protect the environment from harm as a result of that pollution

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