Greenpeace Clashes with Power Company, Eskom over Harmful Coal Emissions in South Africa

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Environmental conservation group, Greenpeace Africa has opposed an application for postponements and suspensions from complying with South Africa’s Minimum Emission Standards (MES) from Eskom, a South African electricity public utility firm.

The group has submitted comments to Naledzi, an environmental consultancy, in a bid to stop some of Eskom’s operations.

The MES, which Greenpeace Africa says are relatively weak, are designed to improve air quality in the country. This, however, has been significantly compromised by Eskom’s almost complete reliance on coal for electricity production and repeated requests for postponements from complying.

“Greenpeace Africa is vehemently opposed to Eskom’s application for further postponements and/or suspensions from air quality legislation. In the interests of realising our constitutional right to a healthy environment, absolutely no further postponements should be given to Eskom or, indeed, any other entity,” said Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager for Greenpeace Africa, Melita Steele.

“Eskom should either comply with the MES or its coal-fired power stations must be retired at an accelerated pace because thousands of people’s lives are on the line,” she added.

Eskom was granted a five-year postponement from compliance in 2015, and the embattled utility is now applying for yet another set of postponements and, in some cases, complete suspensions from complying.

“While we acknowledge that Eskom is in crisis, we can no longer ignore the deadly impacts of Eskom’s dirty fleet of coal-fired power stations. It is unacceptable that in Eskom’s application, the utility is significantly downplaying the health impacts and premature deaths from their coal-fired power stations,” Steele reiterated.

“Eskom consistently ignores international research standards and uses outdated research, unacceptable timelines and highly exaggerated cost assumptions for retrofitting pollution abatement technology. According to international best practice, compliance with the MES is absolutely possible. Eskom is simply choosing instead to seek out a new licence to kill,” she continued.

Greenpeace Africa states that air pollution, with its devastating impacts on human health and well-being, remains a critical problem in South Africa. This is particularly worrying in areas such as the Highveld, where air quality remains poor or has further deteriorated from ‘potentially poor’ to ‘poor’ and is out of compliance with air quality legislation.

To make matters worse, Mpumalanga Province in South Africa is the largest NO2 air pollution hotspot in the World, as new satellite data assessed by Greenpeace showed for the period of 1 June to 31 August 2018.

Greenpeace Africa says that to date, Eskom’s levels of compliance have been abysmal. Between April 2016 and December 2017, Eskom’s seventeen coal-fired power stations reported nearly 3,200 exceedances of their daily Atmospheric Emissions Licenses limits for particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and oxides of nitrogen. Eskom’s ‘Emission Reduction Plan’ would allow the company to operate its entire existing fleet without even rudimentary controls for two of the most dangerous pollutants emitted from coal-fired power plants, sulphur dioxide and mercury.

“As far as Greenpeace Africa is concerned, no further postponements or suspensions can legally be granted to the utility by the National Air Quality Officer and Eskom’s application should be dismissed. We take this position given the air pollution crisis in Mpumalanga, the length of time that Eskom has had available in which to prepare to comply, the flawed application, and the thousands of premature deaths that will be caused if Eskom does not comply,” Steele explained.

“We call on Eskom to abandon its renewed attempt to avoid complying with air quality legislation that has been put in place to protect people’s health,” she concluded.

Naledzi Environmental Consultants are running the public participation process on behalf of Eskom as they finalise their submission. The comments are submitted as part of the public participation process that Eskom is conducting for their application.

Their application is due to be submitted to the National Air Quality Officer by 31 March, 2019, after which the National Air Quality Officer will make a decision. There is no deadline for this decision to be taken.


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