Media release

NSW EPA gives coal-fired power stations a licence to harm communities

January 30, 2019

The NSW Environment Protection Authority has again given coal-fired power stations a licence to harm communities with toxic coal pollution after a disappointing decision to leave licences unchanged for Vales Point, Mt Piper and Eraring power stations.

Thousands of concerned community members, union representatives and health and legal experts have been calling for the NSW and Victorian EPAs to use scheduled licence reviews to make coal-fired power stations install available technology to protect community health.

The EPA confirmed its review determination only after direct calls were made by Environmental Justice Australia to the Acting Chief Regulator but has not made the decision public, other than the completed status of the reviews.

Regional Director North of the EPA, Adam Gilligan, states that, “While there is technology available to reduce power station emissions, the EPA’s statutory reviews of the Eraring, Mount Piper and Vales Point power stations environment protection licences found that imposing a requirement to significantly upgrade the power stations was not warranted.” [1]

Coal-fired power stations release more than 30 toxic pollutants and are the single biggest source of dangerous sulfur dioxide (SO2) oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and fine particle pollution (PM2.5) in Australia.

Currently, all three power stations do not have pollution controls fitted that are standard in other countries like Europe, the U.S. and China, and limit toxic pollutants by more than 85 percent.

A recent report, authored by leading epidemiologist, Dr. Ben Ewald, found that if the five coal-fired power stations in NSW remain open until their expected closure dates, it is estimated they will cause an additional 3429 additional deaths in NSW.

EJA Director of Advocacy and Research Nicola Rivers said, “The EPA has effectively given these coal-fired power stations a licence to harm our communities. There are pollution control measures available now that could save lives and safeguard the health of affected communities, yet the EPA has baulked on its responsibility to make these coal-fired power stations install them. With a state election coming up in March, we’re calling on the NSW Premier and the Opposition Leader Michael Daley to commit to clean up this mess before more people suffer from the serious health impacts of toxic coal pollution.”

Dr Ben Ewald, Newcastle GP, member of Doctors for the Environment and author of the recently released report, The Health Burden of Coal-fired Power In NSW said, “The EPA has decided that preventing 279 premature deaths and 361 cases of diabetes per year is not warranted, and that the 233 babies born underweight because of power station air pollution should just put up with it. The decision makers in the EPA are ignoring compelling health reasons to clean up power station air pollution. Modern pollution controls are required on vehicles, so why not power stations?”

Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said: “This is yet another environmental failure by the Berejiklian government, which has consistently prioritised the profits of polluters ahead of human health and the environment. This is a missed opportunity to make the owners of these dirty coal-burning power plants bring them up to modern standards. Meanwhile, NSW residents are paying the price by breathing polluted air.”

Local Central Coast resident and Secretary of Mannering Park Progress, Sue Wynn said, “This is so disappointing for our communities and the whole of NSW because the fine particles and pollution doesn’t just stay over us. If we and Sydney want more poor air quality days this government has just delivered it.”

Julie Favell from the Lithgow Environment Group said, “In Lithgow, we had hoped new licences would result in air pollution monitoring – both in our neighbourhoods and from the stacks – but we still have no way to know what we’re breathing. We would welcome Energy Australia stepping up and leading by example by implementing air pollution monitoring recommended last year and installing best practice pollution controls.”

Ageing coal-fired power stations in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley also lack proper regulation and adequate pollution controls are awaiting decisions on licence reviews.

[1] Review determination was stated in an email to one of EJA’s partner organisations. Details can be found here.

Open letter to the NSW Premier EPA gives coal-fired power stations a licence to harm communities.

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