groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa)

AIR QUALITY, COMMUNITY PEOPLE ADDRESS PARLIAMENT

Cape Town, South Africa, 27 October 2014 – Tomorrow in parliament, representatives from five environmental justice organisations [1] will meet with the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs to discuss groundWork’s [2] recent report on the failing governance and dangerous state of air quality in the country.

Last month, groundWork and its legal and community-based partners released Slow Poison: Air pollution, public health and failing governance [3], a report highlighting the little to no gains made in fighting poor air quality in South Africa and how we have got to this point. The Department of Environmental Affairs (the Department) has recognised the legitimacy of the report’s findings at their annual Air Quality Lekgotla in Durban between 6 and 8 October 2014. The parliamentary hearing has been called for in the wake of the public interest in the report, which was extensively covered by the media.

In the beginning of October during its Air Quality Lekgotla in Durban, the Department announced that it would start the task of conducting a cost benefit analysis, which is critical to begin understanding the negative impacts bad air quality has on public health, the cost this has on the state, and ultimately, on the tax-payer.

This comes at a time when the Department is facing pressure from the country’s big emitters, such as Eskom and Sasol, as a result of stricter minimum emission standards coming into force next year. Eskom continues to push the Department to grant it exemption (in the form of “rolling postponements”) for 14 of its coal-fired power stations; which, if it succeeds, would create an ever greater health burden for those living in the Highveld and Waterberg-Bojanala Priority Areas. Sasol and Natref are currently taking the Department to court, seeking to set aside the majority of these minimum emission standards.

Robyn Hugo, attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights [4], explains that the companies are “aiming to set aside most of South Africa’s hard-won air pollution regulations for big industry. One of the arguments they make is that the benefits of legal compliance are not worth the costs of adhering to the law designed to limit dangerous emissions from South Africa’s biggest polluters.”

The organisations support the DEA in countering industry’s pushback on air quality standards and will call on the portfolio committee to:

According to groundWork’s Director, Bobby Peek, the reasons for the organisations’ demands are that “if Eskom and corporations are allowed postponement from the minimum emission standards which are protective of health, our democratically elected representatives will be failing South Africans by allowing Eskom and corporations such as Sasol to act with ‘legal’ impunity”.

FOOTNOTES
[1] groundWork www.groundwork.org.za; the Centre for Environmental Rights; South Durban Community Environmental Alliance; Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance; and Highveld Environmental Justice Network.
[2] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working with community people from around South Africa, and increasingly Southern Africa, on environmental justice and human rights issues focusing on Air Quality, Climate and Energy Justice, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Friends of the Earth International.
[3] To read the report visit:
http://www.groundwork.org.za/specialreports/Slow%20Poison%20(2014)%20groundWork.pdf
[4] The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) is a non-profit company and law clinic based in Cape Town, South Africa. Its mission is to advance the realisation of environmental rights as guaranteed in the South African Constitution by providing support and legal representation to civil society organisations and communities who wish to protect their environmental rights, and by engaging in legal research, advocacy and litigation to achieve strategic change www.cer.org.za

CONTACTS
Megan Lewis
groundWork – Media and Communications Campaigner
Tel (w): 033 342 5662
Tel (m): 083 450 5541
Email: megan@groundwork.org.za

Bobby Peek
groundWork – Director
Tel (w): 033 342 5662
Tel (m): 082 464 1383
Email: bobby@groundwork.org.za