Lacking legal ramifications questioned

It’s been called a “tale of two power stations”.

At the same time as the Hazelwood mine fire, another GDF SUEZ or ENGIE coal mine “disaster” was occurring across the Pacific Ocean unknown to the town of Morwell.

In Savona, Italy, a judge issued the Tirreno Power Electricity plant to cease production at the coal-fired section on 11 March 2014.

There were no flames, no plumes of smoke and ash for 45 days like here, but an Environmental Justice Australia report says epidemiological evidence found the Italian plant was responsible for 438 deaths between 2000 and 2007, cardiovascular and respiratory instances and asthma in children.

The report said the warrant to cease was in response to findings the plant had violated the conditions of their Integrated Environmental Authorisation and caused a “disaster with consequential danger for public safety”.

This follows the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry finding that the 2014 blaze likely contributed to deaths in the region.

In its report, the Board of Inquiry said there was no “absolute proof” about the findings, but it would be surprising if the pollution did not cause some deaths.

‘A tale of two power stations: Comparing Australian and European approaches to regulator’ co-author and RMIT senior lecturer Lauren Rickards said the Hazelwood mine fire was a ‘far worse’ incident but the Italian plant pointed to a lax legal response to environmental disasters in Australia.

Dr Rickards said she explored why Hazelwood had not experienced the same legal ramifications as the coal-fired power station in Italy.

While the first Hazelwood mine fire inquiry issued a number of recommendations to the plant operator and State Government, no formal prosecutions have been made against the mine operator by government regulatory agencies.

In contrast in Italy, two employees of the Tirreno Power had criminal proceedings against them regarding failure to abide by the provisions of the Integrated Environmental Authorisation.

“It really highlights the depth of the issues here and how little we have done,” Dr Rickards said.

Dr Rickards said the Hazelwood mine fire continued to be framed as a fire event in time and space, without addressing the underlying problems of everyday air pollution Latrobe Valley residents live with.

“The fire is considered to be a natural disaster, apolitical, an act of God and we should have been better prepared,” she said.

“There’s no discussion about the broader causal factors of burning brown coal every day.”