Civil Society views Air Quality Bill as a tool to reduce pollution and lessen corporate influence on the state.

11 August 2004 - The Portfolio Committee on Environment is discussing the amendments to the National Environmental Management Act: Air Quality Bill from 11-12 August 2004. The proposed amendments to the Bill is a result of civil society organisations [1] requesting the Portfolio Committee on Environment and Tourism in February 2004, to hold back the Bill and to request the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) to consult stakeholders and once again apply their minds, and make necessary amendments to the Bill to ensure accountability. The Portfolio Committee must be congratulated for calling for these amendments.

Civil society welcomes the Bill as a departure from the old Air Pollution Prevention Act of 1965. There are positives strides made in these amendments to accommodate certain of the civil society’s concerns, however there are some issues lacking. On behalf of the Civil Society organisations listed below, Mr Andy Birkinshaw and Ms Caroline Ntaopane will be attending these sessions to present the comments of civil society organisations to the Portfolio Committee to recognise and make suggestions on the improvements. [The full text of the presentation can be requested from groundWork].

This Bill is proof of the strength of civil society to influence and develop legislation and policy. It is also significant in that policy makers listened to civil society which hopefully has set a precedence for effective public engagement at all levels of government, making this a relevant piece of legislation.

The Air Quality Bill is much more than just about pollution; it is also about environmental justice and corporate abuse. Corporate power and abuse must be contained. It is only through legislation combined with adequate monitoring that corporations can be held accountable. The Portfolio Committee must take the lead from a government perspective as the “corporate watchdog” and ensure that this legislation does not collect dust but becomes a piece of legislation that will be implemented. Similarly we, as civil society, undertake to use this legislation, together with the NEMA, to strive towards environmental justice in South Africa. We will continue to challenge government in areas where we think that they are lacking in their role.

For more information contact any of the organisations listed below.

Below are the minimum improvements required to ensure that the Bill is workable:

  1. The objects of the statute must guarantee the protection of health and the minimisation of pollution
  2. Mandatory emission standards within a specified time for new and old plants based on technology, i.e. best available technology for new plants and best available technology not entailing excessive cost for old plants
  3. Pollution release and transfer inventory, i.e. mandatory public disclosure by polluters of their air pollutant and emissions; legal responsibility for the accuracy of the information
  4. Cumulative impacts must be considered when activities are listed or licensed in terms of sections 21 and 36.
  5. Mandatory testing of air quality and declaration of priority areas where ambient air quality standards are being or are likely to be exceeded.
  6. A mandatory program of auditing of pollutant emission data submitted by facilities.
  7. Enforceable provisions in air quality management plans, which are protective of health, as opposed to vague provisions.
  8. Guidance in the exercise of discretion to protect health and minimise or prevent pollution.
  9. Provisions must be made for people who have suffered injury or death due to air pollution, to hold the polluter liable for such damages.

[1]
groundWork:
Ardiel Soeker (082 940 8669)

Sasolburg Air Quality Monitoring Committee
Caroline Ntaopane (072 246 0081)

South Durban Community Environmental Alliance
Desmond D’Sa (083 982 6939)

Boipatong Environmental Working Group
Matshediso Dlamini Tsotetsi (083 5602 3025)

Table View Residents Association
Andy Birkinshaw (083 703 0183)

Steel Valley Crisis Committee
Samson Mokoene (084 291 8510)

African Genesis Heritage Environmental Club
Setjele Mofokeng (084 722 4762)

Highveld East Community Environmental Monitoring Association
Alex Percent (017 620 6300)

Vuka Environment Dot Com
Edmund Skosana (082 357 7870)