On Friday 12 June 2020, EJA Clean Air Campaigner Maxwell Smith and EJA lawyer Bronya Lipski presented expert evidence to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the health impacts of air pollution in NSW. They were asked to present as witnesses on the strength of EJA’s submission and continued work on air pollution. The hearings were conducted by video conference and webcast live on the Parliament’s website. Here’s a photo of the two in action:
Significantly, Max and Bronya’s appearance came the same week that The Guardian revealed the NSW government abandoned its plan for a clean air strategy after five years of planning. This announcement sparked anger and outrage from communities living near major sources of pollution, such as coal-fired power stations, who spent years contributing to development of the strategy.
Maxwell called for the government to explain why it had backflipped on its longstanding commitment to a clean air strategy, ignoring communities and the advice of the EPA, and for the draft strategy to be made public.
Days later, the NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean walked back suggestions the clean air strategy had been dropped, and recommitted that the government intends to deliver the plan, which is three years overdue, early next year.
This double back-flip from the Minister shows that the NSW government’s commitment to clean air hangs in the balance and we’ll need to work hard to hold the government to its promises.
Here is Maxwell’s opening statement to the hearing on behalf of EJA:
In March this year, research in the Medical Journal of Australia estimated that the smoke from the summer’s bushfires was responsible for 417 deaths in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and the ACT. Over half of these – 219 – were in NSW.
By comparison with these solemn figures, more than 4800 Australians die from exposure to air pollution each year – four times the national road toll in 2019. Thousands more Australians suffer from health impacts such as asthma, lung disease, heart attacks and stroke.
In 2005, the NSW government estimated that in the Sydney Greater Metropolitan Region (GMR), particle air pollution alone causes 520 premature deaths, 6300 cumulative years of life lost, 1180 hospital admissions and $8.4 billion (up to $15.2 billion) in health costs each year.
NSW air pollution policy must reduce this health and economic burden from every day, ambient air pollution across the state. This means policies that seek to reduce air pollution from all major sources to as close to zero as possible.
Successive NSW Health studies (including one published this year) have concluded that reducing everyday air pollution levels by even a small amount will yield a range of immediate and substantial health and economic benefits for NSW which are likely to far outweigh the costs of intervention.
Strong health-based air pollution standards must be implemented to protect community health all year round, with an exposure reduction framework in place for continual improvement of emissions standards.
We urge the Committee to make recommendations that pre-existing sources of air pollution be reduced to as close to zero as possible to mitigate the health burden of air pollution on the NSW community all year round. Thank you.
Our key recommendations
Now we await the report of the committee of inquiry, to see if it will adopt any of EJA’s key recommendations. The NSW Government should:
- Focus air pollution control strategies on the biggest sources of air pollution which have the biggest impact on human health.
- Set strong stack emissions limits for coal-fired power stations in line with international standards, which will require operators to install continuous stack monitoring and best practice pollution controls.
- Finalise and implement a Clean Air Strategy for NSW, for implementation 365 days a year, which includes strong measures to reduce industrial pollution as close to zero as possible.
- Expand the NSW air quality monitoring network to monitor in areas with particular risks to health from significant air pollution sources, such as at Lake Macquarie and Lithgow.
- Set strong health-based air pollution standards now to protect health, with an exposure reduction framework in place for continual improvement of the standards.
- Finalise the review of the Load-Based Licencing (LBL) Scheme, removing the exemption for pollution from coal mines and associated infrastructure that threatens human health.
- Commit to further research and policy development with regards to air pollution and impact on health.