The issue

Coal-fired power stations are some of the most toxic polluters in NSW, yet some pollution limits the NSW government sets for these facilities are well below international standards.

More than 3,000 Australians die each year from air pollution, much of it due to fine particles called PM10 and PM2.5. [1]

These fine particles cannot be seen by the naked eye and are drawn deep into the lungs causing lung cancer, respiratory illness, heart attack and stroke.

A major source of many of these pollutants is coal mining and coal-fired power stations. Once released into the air, they travel hundreds of kilometres from the Hunter Valley and Central Coast all the way to Sydney.

In NSW alone, 279 people die each year as a direct result of breathing in toxic pollutants from coal-fired power stations.[2]

Regulatory failure

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) actually issues “pollution licences” that allow the companies that own the power stations to pump these pollutants into our air.

When power station pollution licences come up for renewal, the EPA has a rare chance to tighten pollution limits to protect community health and the environment by requiring new technologies that filter out dangerous toxins.

But in January 2019, the EPA renewed licences for the Vales Point and Eraring power stations on the Central Coast and the Mt Piper station near Lithgow without reducing the pollution these facilities can emit.

Not only was this a massive missed opportunity to tighten pollution limits, the Nature Conservation Council also believes the EPA may have broken the law, which is why we they are taking them to court with EJA as their lawyers.

The Court Case

NCC is arguing the NSW EPA did not properly consider the pollution caused by NSW’s three power stations, nor did it properly consider the measures which could be taken to prevent or control that pollution as required by the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991, when carrying out its five yearly licence reviews.

In addition, NCC is arguing the NSW EPA did not properly consider its objectives to protect, restore and enhance the environment, reduce risks to human health and prevent the harm to the environment.

NCC argues that by failing to consider these factors, the EPA’s decision was in breach of the law.

If the case is successful, the EPA will be required to remake the decision according to law by properly considering the pollution caused by the three power stations and the options to reduce that pollution.

This could lead to the three power stations being made to install pollution controls that could cut toxic pollutants by 85 percent or more. It could also set a precedent for litigation in other states with coal-fired power stations.

When renewing pollution licences, the EPA is legally required to consider measures available to prevent or control pollution, protect the environment and honour the principles of ecologically sustainable development

Kate Smolski, CEO, Nature Conservation Council NSW

Hear from Nature Conservation Council NSW


[1] Quoted in Australia State of the Environment Report 2011. Originally fom Begg S, Vos T, Barker B, Stevenson C, Stanley L, Lopez A. The burden of disease and injury in Australia 2003. AIHW cat. no. PHE 82. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2007, viewed 12 August 2011.
[2] The health burden of fine particle pollution from electricity generation in NSW, Dr Ben Ewald B.Med, PhD, November 2018.