Johannesburg - Environmental Minister Barbara Creecy has reacted with scorn to the labelling of Eskom’s coal-fired stations as dirty by advocacy groups taking the government to court over air quality.
GroundWork and the Vukani Environmental Movement, sought an order forcing the government to implement its own plans to curb emissions and improve air quality in the coal-mining Highveld communities straddling Mpumalanga and Gauteng.
These government plans were contained in the Highveld Priority Area Air Quality Management Plan, promulgated in 2007 by the then Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.
It declared a 30 000km² area cutting across Gauteng and Mpumalanga as a priority area requiring improvement of ambient air quality.
The bold Highveld plan, which would have forced Eskom, Sasol and NatRef to account for pollution, was left to gather dust, the applicants said.
As a result, “the ambient air in the Highveld is heavily polluted”, director of the groundWork Trust, Sven Peek, said in an affidavit. “Major towns such as eMalahleni, Middelburg, Secunda, Standerton, Edenvale, Boksburg and Benoni, in particular, are well-known for their poor air quality.”
Creecy has filed a 260-page replying affidavit at the North Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, saying why the government opposed the application. She also slated the litigants for saying Eskom’s Mpumalanga coal-fired stations emitted dirty air.
Creecy stopped short of accusing the organisations of being hypocrites because they relied on the electricity from the same power stations to mount their court challenge.
“I noted the emotive description by the applicants of the coal-fired stations of Eskom as “dirty”, but those dirty coal-fired stations provide the electricity which enabled the applicants and their attorneys to type and print out the very papers upon which they rely in this application,” Creecy said.
The government wanted the application dismissed largely on grounds that the litigants relied on misinformation, as far as Creecy was concerned.
She said while ambient air quality at hot spots in the Highveld Priority Area was not yet in compliance with National Ambient Air Quality Standards, this was not enough to render the government in breach of the environmental rights.
The matter will be heard in May.