Environmental groups are fuming after Eskom applied for another postponement to regulations that would reduce pollution from one of their power plants.
The Highveld Environmental Justice Network and the Life After Coal Campaign‚ which includes the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER)‚ Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and groundWork‚ objected to Eskom applying for a postponement for their Tutuka power station – near Standerton in Mpumalanga – to comply with the minimum emission standards (MES).
MES is the maximum amount of air pollution allowed. The standards were first published in 2010 and required Eskom’s coal-fired power stations to comply with certain levels by April 1‚ 2015‚ and stricter levels five years later in 2020.
Naledzi Environmental Consultants‚ on behalf of Eskom‚ said in a document that sets out the background to Eskom’s application that Tutuka will not be able to comply due to “various constraints”.
Eskom was granted an extension to meet MES deadlines in 2015. They want to retain their levels for Tutuka until 2024.
Environmental groups said‚ however‚ this means that Tutuka’s emissions will be seven times the required minimum emissions standards come 2020.
CER estimated pollution from Tutuka to be responsible for 192 “equivalent attributable deaths”‚ over 1000 cases of bronchitis‚ 204 hospital admissions‚ 340‚963 restricted activity days and 85‚533 lost working days. The economic loss is estimated to be R2.4-billion annually. Equivalent attributable deaths is used because pollution and other risk factors such as diet‚ disease and smoking indirectly kill people.
groundWork campaigner Thomas Mnguni said: “Allowing Eskom to exceed the MES is at the expense of the health of the South African people and the economy. It is unacceptable.”
Former Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk in 2007 declared the Mpumalanga Highveld a “priority area” in terms of the Air Quality Act. The 31‚000km2 area is home to 12 Eskom coal power stations and Sasol’s Secunda refinery and others.
Van Schalkwyk said at the time “people living and working in these areas do not enjoy air quality that is not harmful to their health and well-being”.
A report by CER‚ groundWork and the Highveld Environmental Justice Network published in October last year found air quality in the Mpumalanga Highveld remained poor and non-compliant with health-based national ambient air quality standards.
National air quality officer Dr Thuli Khumalo said in a presentation in October last year that many South Africans “may be breathing air that is harmful to their health and well-being especially in the priority areas”‚ and “a 9 year trend of pollutants indicate that the air quality has not improved”.