In a massive win for community health, the NSW Environment Protection Authority has been forced to walk back its unlawful decision allowing Delta Electricity to emit toxic pollution above the legal limit, giving Delta just two years to clean up its act.
“The EPA has conceded Delta’s previous pollution exemption was unlawful and has had to resort to using extraordinary powers to continue to allow Delta to pollute at rates higher than otherwise allowed under NSW laws,” EJA lawyer Jocelyn McGarity said.
Acting for the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and the Australian Conservation Foundation, Environmental Justice Australia lawyers challenged the EPA’s decision in February 2022. They put the agency on notice that Delta’s exemption to pollute nitrogen oxides above the legal limit was unlawful.
“The EPA has given Vales Point power station an exemption from air pollution laws for the last decade. Finally, the EPA has put an end to this. It means by October 2024 Vales Point has two choices – clean up its act or plan for earlier closure,” Ms McGarity said.
“This win for community health is the result of our clients and the community tirelessly fighting for clean air to protect all members of the community, but especially kids with asthma, those who are pregnant and older people with respiratory and cardiovascular illness.”
“This is good news for the community that now has some certainty for cleaner air beyond 2024. However, we know there’s no safe level of pollution and it’s disappointing the EPA has determined continued pollution will not have any significant adverse effect on community health.”
“As always, the devil is in the detail. We will be closely scrutinising any conditions attached to this emergency exemption, and Delta’s compliance, to ensure the EPA is properly regulating Delta to protect community health from toxic pollution.”
Newcastle-based GP Dr Ben Ewald said: “Pollutants from coal-fired power stations are one of the state’s biggest sources of air pollution. We know there is no safe level of pollution.”
“Toxic nitrogen oxides cause asthma in children and contribute to fine particle air pollution which leads to scores of premature deaths every year.”
This decision by the EPA comes just as the potential new owner of Vales Point, Sev.en Global Investments, was announced.
“Sev.en has a disturbing record overseas of avoiding pollution controls and extending the life of coal-fired power stations at the expense of community health,” Ms McGarity said.
“The EPA has a responsibility to protect community health. Given the concerns that Sev.en may seek to keep Vales Point open beyond 2029, it is incumbent on the EPA to properly regulate Vales Point to reduce nitrogen oxide pollution by requiring that pollution controls be installed.”
Background & Timeline
- In October 2021, the NSW EPA called for public submissions on Delta Electricity’s application for a licence variation which would allow it to emit nitrogen oxide pollution at a rate higher than is otherwise permitted under NSW law.
- The EPA received more than 1800 public submissions opposing the application.
- Despite widespread backlash, on December 15, 2021, the NSW EPA granted Delta Electricity’s Vales Point Power Station a licence variation allowing it to emit nitrogen oxide pollution at a higher rate than is otherwise permitted.
- On February 21, 2022 Environmental Justice Australia lawyers, acting for the Nature Conservation Council and Australian Conservation Foundation, wrote to the EPA warning the licence variation was unlawful as Delta Electricity had failed to meet the deadline to submit its application.
- In August 2022, documents obtained under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009, revealed the EPA sought top legal advice on the issue.
- On September 16, EJA, NCC and ACF made a further submission to the EPA putting evidence before the EPA about the serious health and environmental impacts of air pollution from coal-fired power stations.
- On September 16, Delta Electricity owners Sunset Power, announced Vales Point power station would be sold to Czech company, Sev.en Global Investments.