Legal case

Uncovering the truth about Yallourn’s pollution controls 

Victoria’s coal-fired power stations are among some of the most polluting in the world. Coal-fired power stations in most other countries are required to install a suite of pollution control equipment that can reduce toxic pollutants by more than 85 percent. In Victoria however, power stations rely solely on second rate electrostatic dust precipitators (EDPs).

Lawyers at Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) have long suspected that the electrostatic dust precipitator (EDP) at the power station, installed to protect the community from toxic fine particle pollution and dust, has not been operating effectively, after receiving reports from local residents about layers of coal ash covering their homes.

In March 2019, EJA made a Freedom of Information Request to the Victorian EPA seeking a copy of reports which detail the assessment and condition of the power station’s EDPs. The EPA determined to release the reports with content so heavily redacted the information provided was meaningless.

The redactions were made on the basis that the documents contain commercially sensitive information of EnergyAustralia’s, who claim that release of information would reveal:

  • The performance and operation of the EDP;
  • The current condition and life of the EDP;
  • The consultant’s conclusions with respect to improving the performance of the EDPs;
  • Risks associated with the EDPs; and
  • Business decisions of EnergyAustralia Yallourn with respect to the EDPs.

It is unclear why the EPA believes information about Yallourn power station’s outdated pollution controls is so commercially sensitive that it cannot be released to the public.

This information should be publicly available to help the Latrobe Valley community understand what EnergyAustralia is doing to control pollution at Yallourn and protect their health.

If EnergyAustralia is using failing pollution controls at Yallourn Power Station and endangering the health of the Latrobe Valley community, the community has a right to know.

After we exhausted all other avenues of obtaining information on the state of Yallourn’s EDPs, we launched legal proceedings.

On 20 December 2019, EJA issued review proceedings in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to challenge the Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA) decision to heavily redact information contained in reports about the EDP which detail the historical performance and current condition of the power station’s EDPs and options for improving their performance.

EnergyAustralia maintained that the operation and condition of their EDP’s was a commercial secret and that shouldn’t be released.

In December 2020, almost 12 months after the application was filed, EnergyAustralia suddenly determined that there was in fact no trade secret and agreed to release the documents.

 

“Residents of the Latrobe Valley, particularly in Newborough and Yallourn North, have a right to know if EnergyAustralia is endangering their health by operating the only substantial pollution control inefficiently at Yallourn Power Station”

– Bronya Lipski, EJA Lawyer

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