Union pressures EPA

Bryce Eishold

Unionists are placing mounting pressure on the state’s Environment Protection Authority – urging the regulator to strengthen air pollution regulation standards for brown coal-fired power stations – as part of a licence review into Latrobe Valley generators.

Last week the CFMEU described air pollution controls for the region’s power stations as “woefully under-regulated”, claiming Latrobe Valley generators were the “least controlled in the world”.

CFMEU Mining and Energy Division Victorian District Branch secretary Geoff Dyke took aim at the EPA and said the lenient regulations could impact the health of power station workers and the broader community.

“Our workers in the Latrobe Valley are extremely disappointed that the EPA continues to let these power stations put profit before the health of our workers and our community,” Mr Dyke said.

The CFMEU is calling for the EPA to require Latrobe Valley generators to install standard pollution controls that reduce toxic pollutants by up to 98 per cent – a measure which is an international standard in the European Union, United States, China, Japan and India.

It follows a report by the Australian Conservation Foundation in November which ranked Traralgon as the fourth worst postcode for National Pollutant Inventory emissions – with 66.77 per cent of recorded emissions due to brown-coal fired power stations.

“‘It is inexplicable why, despite billions of cubic metres of toxic air pollution spewing from power stations in Victoria, the EPA doesn’t use its powers to mandate simple pollution controls to better protect the health of our workers and communities and reduce environmental impacts,” Mr Dyke said.

“The EPA should require coal-fired power stations to install flue-gas desulphurisation equipment to control sulphur dioxide emissions; selective catalytic reduction equipment to control oxides of nitrogen emissions; and electrostatic precipitators running at their optimum capacity to control fine particle pollution.

“It beggars belief that the EPA would not enforce pollution controls to eliminate smog, acid rain and that will prevent serious health problems in our communities, such as the high incidence of respiratory illnesses in the Latrobe Valley.”

Mr Dyke said the EPA should consider updating and enforcing stricter regulations for Latrobe Valley generations to meet international standards to better protect the region’s health and environment.

“The EPA should ensure air pollution is reduced to as close to zero as possible, especially when it is economically feasible to do so,” Mr Dyke said.

He said while profitability in the industry was at an “all-time high”, station operators should be mandated to install pollution controls, with the cost of installation to be recovered before the end of the lifespan of the respective plants.

In a statement, a spokesman for the EPA said it was reviewing licences of power stations as part of a periodic licence review program.

“EPA has required the power station operators to prepare or review existing modelling information to better understand their emissions against Victorian standards,” the spokesman said.

“EPA has also enabled public comment through submissions and community conferences. Any new or adjusted limits will be determined through the current licence review process.

The review into licence conditions includes monitoring and reporting, air and water discharge limits, land and groundwater protection conditions and waste management conditions.

“In Victoria, licence limits for power stations are determined specifically for each power plant to ensure ground level concentrations meet limits specified in the air quality management policy State Environment Protection Policy,” the spokesman said.

“The licence limits are determined taking into account a number of factors including: stack height, emission pollution rates and the estimated local air quality impacts predicted by air pollution dispersion modelling. The focus is on protecting the receiving environment and human health.

“EPA will consider all information and decisions on amendments to the licences [and] won’t be made until after this has occurred.”