/ 15 March 2022

Creecy seeks public consultation for Eskom pollution compliance

Interview With Barbara Creecy In South Africa
Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy. (Photo by Ruvan Boshoff/Sunday Times/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy has proposed a public consultation process over appeals that have been lodged over Eskom’s compliance with pollution standards at its coal-fired power stations.

Creecy has now asked President Cyril Ramaphosa to allow the Presidential Climate Commission to oversee, facilitate and conduct the proposed process, her department said on Monday, adding: “This will allow the appellants and interested and affected parties to make representations on the outcomes of this process.”

“It should be noted that the consultative process would not in any way condone noncompliance with the minimum emission standards (MES) and will not impact on any present or future criminal action against noncompliance,” it said.

The appeals centre on decisions made last October by national air quality officer Thuli Khumalo. The department noted that although some of the appeals were granted, others were denied. Creecy has since received several appeals against them from interested and affected parties. The appellants include Eskom, other companies and a range of NGOs.

In her decisions, Khumalo declined Eskom’s request for MES postponements at its Matla, Duvha, Matimba, Medupi and Lethabo power stations. She partially granted postponements for Majuba, Tutuka, Kendal and Kriel. Eskom, meanwhile, received positive postponement decisions for Grootvlei, Arnot, Hendrina, Camden, Komati, Acacia and Port Rex.

Because of the “complex and conflicting nature” of the issues raised in the appeals, Creecy is of the view that a consultative process will assist in ensuring that all issues arising from the appeals can be addressed in a “meaningful and resolute manner”, her department said.

“The consultative process will deal with matters which have a bearing on the environment, in particular air quality, the health of the country’s citizens, as well as issues relating to the security of energy supply and sustainable development within our country,” it added.

Last month, the Mail & Guardian reported on an appeal lodged by nonprofit organisations groundWork and Earthlife Africa, in which they described Khumalo’s decisions granting Eskom’s applications for postponements and suspension of pollution standards compliance timeframes and weaker limits for some of Eskom’s plants as “unlawful”.

This concerns the Majuba, Kendal, and Tutuka “midlife” power stations, and compliance suspensions for Eskom’s “oldest” stations — Camden, Hendrina, Arnot, Komati, Grootvlei and Kriel — in the absence of detailed and clear decommissioning schedules per station as required.

According to the nonprofit organisations, granting any applications for coal-fired power stations in pollution hotspots such as the Highveld Priority Area, contravenes, among others, the Constitution, the Air Quality Act, the the 2017 national framework for air quality management and the provisions of the National Environmental Management Act.

The department said the current appeal process will be held in abeyance pending the outcome of the consultative process.
Spokesperson Albi Modise said the commission would give guidance on when the consultation process would be conducted.