Greens Push For Action on Air Pollution

Today Abigail pushed for a Greens amendment which would have cracked down on air pollution standards - but the Government made it clear they do not support this as a priority... 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (18:05): I move The Greens amendment No. 1 on sheet c2022-015B: 

No. 1 Standards of air impurities 

Page 33, Schedule 5. Insert after line 5—

[38A] Section 128 Standards of air impurities not to be exceeded 

Insert after section 128(1)— (1AA)Despite subsection (1), the occupier of a power-generating plant using a coal or coal derived fuel must not carry on any activity, or operate any plant, in or on the power-generating plant in a manner that causes or permits the emission of an air impurity specified in the table to this subsection in excess of the standard of concentration specified opposite the air impurity.

Air impurity | Standard of concentration

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) or nitric oxide (NO) or both, as NO2 equivalent | 200 mg/m3

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) | 200 mg/m3

Solid particles (Total) | 20 mg/m3

Mercury (Hg) | 1.5 μg/m3

(1AB) The standards of concentration specified in subsection (1AA) apply despite—

(a) any standards of concentration prescribed by the regulations, or

(b) any alternative higher standard imposed by a licence condition.

(1AB) However, subsection (1AA) does not apply to the occupier of a power-generating plant using a coal or coal-derived fuel if the plant has an expected closure year, within the meaning of the National Electricity Rules, of no later than 2027.

[38B] Section 128(1A)

Omit "Subsection (1) applies". Insert instead "Subsections (1) and (1AA) apply".

[38C] Section 128(2)(a)

Insert "or specified by subsection (1AA)" after "subsection (1)".

 

The object of the amendment is to once again remind this Committee that here in New South Wales we have five massive coal-fired power stations that are belching out dangerously high levels of over 30 toxic substances every day, far in excess of international standards. Their emissions have serious impacts on the communities that live near them, shortening life expectancies and increasing prevalence of heart attack, stroke, asthma, lung cancer and respiratory and cardiovascular disease—not to mention day-to-day irritations of the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory system.

This is not an intractable problem. Those dangerous emissions could easily be reduced by up to 85 per cent if New South Wales' coal-fired power stations adopted the emission control technologies that have been standard inclusions internationally for 50 years. Last year the House conducted an inquiry on The Greens' clean air bill that looked at that very issue. The inquiry report found, with cross-party support, that coal-fired power station air pollution exposure is responsible for diseases, illness and premature death in New South Wales. The report states:

Coal-fired power stations in NSW are lagging behind their overseas counterparts in reducing their harmful health impacts due to comparatively relaxed regulation that has failed to drive the upgrading and installation of pollution control technology. The committee considers it timely that this is addressed and considers that the stricter thresholds for concentration of solid particles, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxides and mercury in the bill would achieve this objective. The current thresholds have not been revised in 25 years. While the NSW Government recently consulted on its draft NSW Clean Air Strategy 2021–30, this strategy includes no additional measures to address air pollution from coal-fired power stations.

During the inquiry, industry participants attempted to refute the scientific evidence presented and argued that the residents of New South Wales should not expect the same levels of protection from toxic pollutants in the air as residents in similar international jurisdictions enjoy. They also cited what they claimed were onerous financial impacts if they were to bring their outdated technology in line with the technology that is standard elsewhere. They told the committee those power plants are closing down soon anyway, so to ask them to invest in environmentally protective technologies now would serve no purpose since their emissions would soon be dropping to zero.

The power companies have demonstrated time and again that they have no consideration for the health and wellbeing of the communities surrounding them, in which their workers and their friends and families live, so long as it would impact on their bottom line. As noted in our inquiry report and in the Government's Clear Air Strategy 2021-30, the final version of which was released the earlier this week, the science has made it clear that the health impacts of coal-fired power generation are significant. Dr Ben Ewald's research into the health burden of fine particle pollution from electricity generation in New South Wales found:

Air pollution from the five NSW power stations is estimated to lead to 279 deaths or 2,614 'Years of Life Lost' every year … 

To put it another way, Origin's decision to bring forward the closure of the Eraring power station from 2032 to 2025 could directly save 600 lives or 5,600 years of life lost. While The Greens believe that the argument that a reduction in profit margin could be considered over and above government action to protect the health and wellbeing of the community is frankly offensive, we are a fundamentally pragmatic bunch. That is why this amendment has been written to impose new emission limits only on those coal‑fired power generators with a scheduled decommissioning date later than 2027. It would thus not apply to power stations, such as Eraring or Liddell, that have indicated an earlier close‑down time.

But then there is Vales Point. Arguably Australia's most urban power station, it is also one of the most polluting. Under the current regulation Vales Point was recognised as one of the oldest and most polluting class of generators and so is subject to stricter emission limits. However, Vales Point was granted a five‑year reprieve from this obligation on the understanding that it would use the time to make the necessary technology investments. Needless to say, it did not. At the end of that five‑year period it was immediately granted another five‑year exemption and last year yet another five‑year exemption, despite overwhelming public pressure on the Environment Protection Authority to act and enforce their own rules. For over 10 years already the owners of Vales Point have known what the community expects of them, and they continue to shrug off their obligations—after, of course, purchasing that power station for a steal.

Now the owners of Vales Point are in the media declaring that not only will they not bring forward its scheduled closure date in line with Eraring and Liddell, but in fact they have plans to extend its life for a further 20 years. Only time will tell what assurances from governments these favoured few have gleaned that could have them so boldly assert this environmentally reckless claim. But if we are to take them at face value, and Vales Point and its ilk continue to burn coal for fuel for another 20 years, then they should have no problem committing to invest in long‑term, lifesaving pollution control measures. If left unabated and allowed to run for a further 20 years, the emissions from Vales Point Power Station would directly contribute to over 900 otherwise preventable deaths, or over 8,500 years of life lost. It is time for these power stations to finally clean up their act. This amendment would go some small way to holding them accountable for the externalised cost and damage they are inflicting on our communities as they fill their pockets. I commend the amendment to the Committee.

 

Both the Government and the Labor Party did not support Abigail's amendment, and so it did not pass.

If you would like to support Abigail's push for action on air pollution, visit this link to support the Greens' Clean Air Bill.  

 

The full transcript can be found in Hansard here.

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