Communities reject pollution bill because it will stifle economic growth and perpetuate high pollution

26 May 2003 - This past weekend civil society representatives expressed their disappointment and dissatisfaction with new draft legislation on air pollution. Over 40 community representatives, most of them drawn from South Africa’s pollution hot spots, gathered in Cape Town to discuss the new National Environment Management; Air Quality Bill at a two day workshop jointly hosted by groundWork and Contact Trust.

The overarching sentiment of those present at the workshop was that the new Bill is inadequate. They said the Bill had failed to meet their expectations because it does not require polluting industries to improve their operations nor does it compel industries to reveal their emission levels.

“This Bill is not going to protect community rights to a clean environment,” said Caroline Seipati Ntaopane from the infamously polluted town of Sasolburg. “This Bill does not compel industries to clean up their operations and reduce their emissions. Besides the fact that polluting industries are making us sick, they are also preventing the emergence of new industries because they have already saturated the air with pollution. These polluting industries are stifling economic growth and job creation,” she said.

Bobby Peek, director of pollution watch dog, groundWork said that the new Bill is a step towards dealing with the problems experienced in SA, but does not go nearly far enough in addressing South Africa’s pollution problems.

“Up until now polluting industries have been protected by apartheid laws,” Peek said. “This has resulted in a health and environmental impacts which, in most cases, have disproportionately impacted on the poor and black communities. The Bill does not produce enough of a change in governance that will allow for the injustices of the past to be addressed in a meaningful manner in the foreseeable future. It in fact allows the present status quo to remain, except in a few instances - one being that local municipalities, which have in the majority of cases little resources and technical know-how, are now responsible for some of the most polluting industries on the African continent if not the world!”

Another short-coming of the Bill is its failure to compel industries to report annually on their emissions of pollutants into the environment. This is at odds with an international trend of mandatory reporting by companies of all their emissions. Only last week 34 countries signed a new United Nations Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers - a protocol which compels companies to report annually on their releases (into the environment) and transfers (to other companies) of certain pollutants. (See www.unece.org)

Speakers at last weekend’s workshop included Reginald Mabelane from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT). Angela Andrews (from the Legal Resources Centre) and Eugene Cairncross, (a chemical engineer who specialises in air pollution), who have advised and supported community campaigns around air pollution for the last seven years worked with community people this week-end to understand the challenges the Bill posed.

A submission outlining civil society’s main concerns with the Bill will be finalised this week and submitted to relevant government officials and parliamentarians.

For more information please contact Bobby Peek on 033-3425662/082 464 1383 or Ardiel Soeker on 082 940 8669.