The issue  

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) is Victoria’s environment watchdog. They regulate some of our biggest polluters like coal-burning power stations and protect the community and environment from pollution.   

But when it came to a crucial decision in March this year, they failed to do enough to regulate the biggest source of pollution in the state – emissions from coal-burning power stations. In March 2021, the EPA issued licences for three coal-burning power stations in the Latrobe Valley that allow them to continue releasing harmful and dangerous levels of pollution, at the expense of the community.

Coal-burning power stations are responsible for about 40 percent of Victoria’s carbon dioxide pollution and are the biggest single source of the air pollution most toxic to human health, including sulfur dioxide, fine particles (PM2.5) and mercury.

A study in 2020 found that pollution from Victorian coal-burning power stations causes 205 premature deaths, 259 low birthweight babies, and 4,376 asthma symptoms in children each year. Despite these serious impacts, pollution limits on Victoria’s coal-burning power stations lag way behind most other countries including China, India and the U.S.   

The case 

Our client, Environment Victoria is taking the Victorian EPA to court for failing to protect the community and environment from coal pollution. The owners of three of the largest power stations in Australia benefit from the EPA’s decision, so are also named as defendants.  

This landmark case will be the first test of Victoria’s key climate change legislation, the Climate Change Act (2017), and the first to challenge the regulation of air pollution from Victoria’s coal-burning power stations.   

Environment Victoria is challenging the EPA’s recent decision about pollution licences for three coal power stations in the Latrobe Valley, made in March 2021.  

The EPA took more than 1200 days to review the licences of three coal power stations and then failed to take any meaningful action on the greenhouse gases they emit. Surprisingly it did not set any limits on greenhouse gas emissions. And whilst their decision did impose limits on mercury pollution, it saw only a modest tightening of limits on other pollutants like sulfur dioxide and PM2.5.  

Our client Environment Victoria is arguing that the EPA failed to require best practice management of toxic emissions, failed to take proper account of the principles of environmental protection enshrined in the Environment Protection Act, and failed to consider key sections of the Climate Change Act (2017).  

If the case is successful, it could lead to much stronger pollution limits on power stations and reduce the toxic health burden that coal-burning power stations have on our communities. It could also set vital legal precedents that have long-lasting impacts.