‘Minister must not be soft on Eskom’s failure to reduce pollution’

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The mining industry in South Africa is a long way from being ready to survive without coal-generated electricity.  Photo: Supplied/ Archive
The mining industry in South Africa is a long way from being ready to survive without coal-generated electricity. Photo: Supplied/ Archive


Environmental groups are appealing to Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy not to grant power utility Eskom further leniency to meet the air pollution standards, as it has failed before to limit the emissions from its coal-fired power stations.

The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) submitted the appeal on February 9 on behalf of Earthlife Africa and groundWork. The two organisations are part of the Life After Coal campaign, which relates to coal-fired power stations such as Majuba, Kendal, Tutuka, Camden, Hendrina, Arnot, Komati, Grootvlei and Kriel.

These power stations, which are situated in the polluted Highveld priority area in Mpumalanga, have been granted more time to comply with the stricter emission limits by 2025. Eskom was supposed to have done this by the 2020 deadline, as prescribed by law.

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Eskom has been accused of delaying compliance under the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act.

An international study conducted in 2018 by coal plant expert, Ranjit Sahu, found that Eskom’s 12 power stations in the Highveld region were emitting 3 200 times more pollution than they should.

People residing near the power stations suffer from respiratory diseases such as asthma and bronchitis. Exposure to the polluted air has resulted in thousands of premature deaths in the province.

The study found that the polluted air cost the country R33 billion a year through hospital admissions and lost working days.

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Tim Lloyd, the CER’s attorney, said allowing Eskom to continue emitting pollution at levels that undermined air quality standards posed an ongoing risk to people’s health.

“These stations are situated in South Africa’s air quality priority areas. In the Mpumalanga Highveld, the SA Air Quality Information System’s air quality monitoring data show that air quality remains noncompliant with the national ambient air quality standards. This is despite it being declared a priority area more than 14 years ago,” Lloyd said.

The centre welcomed the department’s national air quality officer’s decision in October, when it refused to grant Eskom more lenient standards for a number of its facilities. However, the environmentalists felt the nine coal-fired power stations continued to pose unacceptable hazards to people’s health, hence the appeal.

Air pollution in South Africa causes chronic illness and death in vulnerable communities
Earthlife Africa activist Thabo Sibeko.

“These are people who lack the financial means to move away from power stations. Very often, they depend on stations for jobs, they cannot afford adequate health services to mitigate the impacts of air pollution and face negative knock-on socioeconomic and psychological effects.

“These include reduced schooling days for asthmatic children, reduced study and job prospects, and anxiety and depression caused by dealing with such impacts,” Sibeko said.

Lloyd said the law was clear that companies that polluted the air in high-risk areas such as the Highveld region could not be allowed to ask for leniency when they could not reduce their emissions.

Allowing noncompliance with emission standards, he said, also perpetuated the daily breach of the constitutional rights experienced by people living in the Highveld and other priority areas with levels of deadly coal-related air pollution.

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Lloyd said the department’s decision to allow a further delay in compliance rendered the already weak minimum emissions standards redundant.

Eskom’s oldest stations such as Camden, Hendrina, Arnot, Komati, Grootvlei and Kriel have been granted suspensions for compliance with the stricter emission standards on condition that they would be decommissioned by 2030.

Eskom, the environmentalists argue, was legally required to submit detailed decommissioning schedules for these plants as part of its applications to the department, but it had not.

Bobby Peek, director of groundWork, said: “The Life After Coal [campaign] urges the department and Eskom to make these decommissioning plans immediately available on their website for public consideration and comment.”

Department of forestry, fisheries and the environment spokesperson Albi Modise said the appeal was under consideration, and the department could not comment further.


Sizwe sama Yende 


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