By Pheobe Maloney
NSW Labor’s energy spokesperson Adam Searle says Labor would direct the Environment Protection Authority to review the licences of the state’s five coal-fired power plants if the party wins the election.
“In that process we will work with industry and community to maximise health outcomes,” Mr Searle said.
“We will review the licences with a view to moving towards world’s best practices.”
The statement follows criticism from environmental groups that recent reviews of Eraring, Vales Point and Mt Piper power stations’ licences have not reduced amounts of pollutants they are allowed to discharge into the air.
The reviews of the licences of the two Hunter power stations introduced no “substantial changes” to limits on pollutants, or pollution measuring and reporting requirements.
However, the reviews did flag that a NSW Coal Fire Power Station Review Project by the EPA is currently underway.
The guiding report of the project, the Review of Coal fired Power Stations Air Emissions and Monitoring, released last year, recommends multiple changes to licensing requirements in NSW, including “harmonising” reporting conditions and implementing “standardised” conditions between power stations, which currently have diverse environmental and reporting stipulations.
It also recommended pollutant limits be reduced where there was a “demonstrated history of compliance by an appreciable margin”.
The report shows that between 2011 and 2016, Vales Point and Eraring recorded no exceedances on pollutant caps and in most cases maximum outputs were well below limits.
A spokesperson for the EPA said recommendations of the 2018 review were “being implemented progressively this year.”
“The EPA’s statutory reviews of the Eraring, Mount Piper and Vales Point power stations environment protection licences determined that initiatives already underway will address immediate improvements required in the licences,” she said.
“Environment protection licences can be reviewed and varied at any time and the EPA continues to work closely with NSW Health and other government agencies in considering the available evidence to inform regulatory priorities.”
The director of advocacy and research for Environmental Justice Australia Nicola Rivers said the “thousands of citizens, union representatives and health and legal experts” had called for the NSW EPA to use the scheduled licence reviews of the three power stations to make them install new pollution controls.
She said the stations do not have pollution control technologies fitted that “limit toxic pollutants by more than 85 per cent” and are standard in Europe, the US and China.
“We applaud Labor’s pledge to protect the health of local communities by making big power companies clean up their dirty coal-fired power stations,” she said.
“We are now calling on Premier Berejiklian to do the right thing and order the EPA to strengthen the pollutions licences that allow these energy giants to put people’s health at risk.
“The health of communities in the Hunter, Central Coast and Lithgow and the Sydney region have suffered too long while big energy companies make mega profits from their dirty polluting power plants.”
The EPA said air quality in New South Wales is comparable to other Australian jurisdictions and that air pollution concentrations were low by world standards.
This story was published by Newcastle Herald on 4 February 2019.