Johannesburg, Gauteng, 12 February 2014 – Environmental governance in South Africa is cracking at the seams. If government permits Eskom to exceed air pollution standards at 14 of their coal-fired power stations, it would put the nail in the coffin of air quality legislation that protects people’s health.

Today marks the closure for the public to submit comments on Eskom’s applications for postponement from compliance with air quality standards for their coal-fired power stations. These standards require Eskom to meet existing plant standards by 1 April 2015, and stricter new plant standards by 1 April 2020.

All Eskom’s 14 coal-fired power stations fall within areas declared as air pollution priority areas because of poor air quality, largely because of Eskom’s existing pollution. 12 of these stations are within the Highveld Priority Area in Mpumalanga.

Despite the parastatal energy utility admitting to being the biggest air polluter in South Africa, it claims it should be allowed to continue to pollute, since it supplies the country with electricity. However, the cost of this continued pollution is enormous:  Eskom is killing the very people to whom it claims to be providing a service.

When the Air Quality Act came into full operation in 2010, the National Air Quality Officer in the Department of Environment Affairs stated that the annual health care costs associated with the burning of fossil fuels amounted to R4 billion. It is a known fact that the poor are disproportionately affected by air pollution: not only do they live in poverty, but become sick from this pollution.
Rico Euripidou, Environmental Health Campaigner at groundWork [1], explains the massive risk these postponements pose to South African’s health:

“Eskom’s application for rolling postponement (and effectively exemption) from compliance with the requirements of these air pollution standards will ultimately result in much higher air pollution emissions for decades to come. Thousands of South Africans will die prematurely and have their health impaired by exposure to Eskom’s excess emissions of particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury. These impacts will cost the South African taxpayer hundreds of billions more than compliance will cost Eskom.”

In Eskom recognising that it is the biggest polluter and by consequence impacting on people’s health, the company should be putting a stop to air pollution, not undertaking air quality off-setting as a false mitigation solution. Air quality off-setting is the policy mechanism currently being developed which will enable companies, like Eskom, to continue polluting while undertaking small interventions towards improving air quality; such as providing households with free electricity and electric stoves.

Dominque Doyle, Energy Policy Officer at Earthlife Africa Johannesburg [2], explains why air quality off-setting is a false solution:  

“Like most other forms of environmental off-setting, air quality off-setting is nothing more than a permission slip for dirty industry to continue doing more of the same. While the air-quality offsetting mechanism is not yet approved in South Africa, it has the potential effectively to pave the way for a business-as-usual trajectory which has so far had dire consequences for communities living in priority areas. There are limited means by which poor ambient air quality caused by coal-fired power stations can be offset, because poor air quality is caused by burning coal for electricity which is demanded from other parts of the country.”

A further challenge the country will face if Eskom is granted permission to continue polluting, is that it will open the floodgate for other major polluters such as Sasol and Natref who have already submitted applications to be exempt from complying with the required emission standards, to further tear apart critical environmental legislation and governance.

Note: On Wednesday, 12 February 2014, groundWork and Earthlife Africa Johannesburg will publish their full legal submissions prepared by the Centre of Environmental Rights [3] objecting to Eskom’s applications. To view this submission, please visit any of the organisations’ websites tomorrow.

[1] 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.
[2] Earthlife Africa seeks a better life for all people without exploiting other people or degrading their environment. Our aim is to encourage and support individuals, businesses and industries to reduce pollution, minimise waste and protect our natural resources www.earthlife.org.za
[3] The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) is a non-profit company and law clinic based in Cape Town, South Africa. The Centre was established in October 2009 by eight civil society organisations (CSOs) in South Africa’s environmental and environmental justice sector to provide legal and related support to environmental CSOs and communities. 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


Earthlife Africa Johannesburg:
Dominique Doyle
Energy Policy Officer
Tel (w): 011 339 3662
Mobile: 079 331 2028
Email: dominique@groundwork.org.za

Tristen Taylor
Project Coordinator
Tel (w): 011 339 3663
Mobile: 084 250 2434
Email: tristen@earthlife.org.za

Megan Lewis
Media, Information and Publications Officer
Tel (w): 033 342 5662
Mobile: 083 450 5541
Email: megan@groundwork.org.za

Rico Euripidou
Environmental Health Campaigner
Tel (w): 033 342 5662
Mobile: 083 519 3008
Email: rico@groundwork.org.za

Centre for Environmental Rights:
Robyn Hugo
Tel (w): 028 312 2746
Mobile: 082 389 4357
Email: rhugo@cer.org.za

Sylvia Kamanja
Tel (w): 021 447 1647
Mobile: 071 874 4075
Email: skamanja@cer.org.za

Earthlife Africa Johannesburg
groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa)