National Clean Air Agreement finally begins to take shape

For years, State and Federal Governments have been promising a national plan to address air pollution. A new discussion paper asks for feedback in what should be included in a Clean Air Agreement.

For many years now, State and Federal Governments have been promising some kind of national cooperative plan to address air pollution. Last year Environment Ministers agreed to “work towards” establishing a National Clean Air Agreement by 1 July 2016. They have now released a discussion paper which asks for feedback on what should be included in the Agreement.

Overall the discussion paper itself does not provide anything particularly new or noteworthy, apart from signalling governments’ intention to review national standards for sulphur dioxide, ozone and nitrogen dioxide (which is a welcome announcement for communities like those in Anglesea who have long been calling for better regulation of Alcoa’s SO2 emissions there). But it is important for two other reasons –

Presumably this is in part the Federal Government’s attempt to fill the vacuum left by their abolition of the Standing Council on Environment and Water, the Ministerial body that normally has responsibility for arrangements between the States and Territories on air pollution. In that sense its useful that there will now be an agreed  process for air pollution co-ordination.
It is also a recognition by governments, particularly the Federal government, that we do have an air pollution problem in Australia and that communities are increasingly concerned by the lack of action.

Envirojustice  firmly believes that national clean air laws are needed to ensure communities all over Australia are equally and properly protected from the harmful effects of air pollution, and we will continue to work towards that end. In the mean time, this is a great opportunity to show governments the overwhelming concern that communities have about air pollution in Australia, as well as push for specific initiatives to be included in the Agreement.

Key points in the discussion paper

Governments are proposing that the goal of the National Clean Air Agreement should be: “The sustained reduction in air pollution and exposure for all Australians, with associated health, environmental and economic benefits.”

Governments state that the Agreement would identify, at regular intervals, which air pollution issues are of most concern in Australia; and formalise the cooperative actions that governments will take to address them. Initial priorities identified in the Agreement will form the first 2 year work plan for governments.

Specific priorities that have been identified for possible inclusion in the agreement are:

  • Tightening national standards for sulfur dioxide, ozone and nitrogen dioxide via the Ambient Air Quality National Environment Protection Measure;
  • Review of fuel quality standards legislation;
  • Review need for Air Toxics and Diesel Vehicles National Environment Protection Measures;
  • Finalise a national approach non-road spark ignition engines and equipment wood heaters (something that has been promised and delayed for many years);
  • Progress state action for non-road diesel engines and shipping emissions;
  • improve air quality information for researchers, policy makers and the community.

The document notes that a process to tighten standards for particle pollution via the Ambient Air Quality National Environment Protection Measure is already occurring.

Public submissions are due by 17 April. Environmental Justice Australia will be releasing information shortly on what we believe must be included in the Agreement, to help you make submissions. More details to come soon.


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