This week, the Branch Secretary of Victoria’s CFMMEU Mining and Energy Division, Geoff Dyke, will meet with the state Environment Minister to call for a crackdown on air pollution from coal-fired power stations in the Latrobe Valley.
The meeting comes as unionists mount pressure on the state’s Environment Protection Authority, urging the regulator to strengthen air pollution controls for brown coal-fired power stations, as part of a licence review into Latrobe Valley generators.
Last year, Mr Dyke, took aim at the Victorian EPA and said woeful regulations could impact the health of power station workers and the broader community.
The CFMMEU is calling for the EPA to require Latrobe Valley generators to install standard pollution controls that reduce toxic pollutants by up to 85 per cent – a measure which is an international standard in the European Union, United States, China, Japan and India.
The calls for the EPA to take immediate action follow two significant reports last year. A report by the Australian Conservation Foundation in November which ranked Traralgon as the fourth worst postcode for National Pollutant Inventory emissions – with 66.77 per cent of recorded emissions due to brown-coal fired power stations.
And an independent study on the health burden of coal-fired power stations, released in November, by leading epidemiologist, Dr Ben Ewald and commissioned by Environmental Justice Australia that found New South Wales’ coal-fired power stations cause 279 premature deaths each year, 233 low-birth weight babies, and 369 cases of Type 2 diabetes.
“Our workers in the Latrobe Valley are extremely disappointed that the EPA continues to let these power stations put profit before the health of our workers and our community,” Mr Dyke said.
He said while profitability in the industry was at an “all-time high”, station operators should be mandated to install pollution controls, with the cost of installation to be recovered before the end of the lifespan of the respective plants.
A decision by the EPA on whether to amend the licences of ageing coal-fired power stations in both NSW and Victoria are expected within the next few months.
“Our community has been exposed to toxic air pollution from coal-fired power stations without standard pollution controls for decades now. We have higher rates of asthma, disease and a generally lower quality of health than the rest of Victoria. Our poorer quality of health could be improved if the EPA required coal-fired power stations to fit pollution controls that are standard installations in much of the rest of the world.”
“The emissions limits for these coal-fired power stations have not changed for 20 years despite huge advancements in pollution control technology.”
Despite the EPA’s claim to be a “world-class regulator”, their willingness to control pollution is substandard compared with other countries. The Yallourn and Loy Yang A and B power stations emit such high levels of air pollution they would be prevented from operating in other countries like the European Union, the United States, Japan, India and China.
“The EPA’s continued lax regulation puts into question their willingness to genuinely safeguard human and environmental health.”
“The EPA should require coal-fired power stations to install flue-gas desulphurisation equipment to control sulphur dioxide emissions; selective catalytic reduction equipment to control oxides of nitrogen emissions; and electrostatic precipitators running at their optimum capacity to control fine particle pollution.”