Tuesday, 12 April 2022 09:44

Barbara Creecy slams high court air pollution ruling.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

Government has asked for leave to appeal parts of a High Court ruling that ordered it to act against air pollution caused by Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd and Sasol Ltd in a key industrial zone.

In a media statement on 11 April, Barbara Creecy framed her decision to contest the court ruling simply as a desire to seek legal clarity on whether she was obliged to make new regulations — or whether she had the discretion to make new regulations in a manner that she preferred.

"Minister Creecy states that it is not her intention to use the appeal process to delay the drafting of regulations and that the process will continue independently of any appeal."

She said parts of the judgment had a potentially wider significance that could impact on several statutes within the environmental sphere. 

In her ruling, Judge Colleen Collis said Creecy had "unreasonably delayed" passing the regulations.

In her supporting affidavit, Creecy notes that soon after taking office as national environment minister, she became "acutely aware of, and familiar with, the pressing and continuing problem with air pollution in the Highveld Priority Area". 

"Every individual person residing or working in the Highveld Priority Area has my sympathy and also the sympathy of every official in the National Department. I also realised and know that the ongoing state of affairs, regarding the unacceptable levels of air pollution in the Highveld Priority Area and the potentially adverse impacts thereof, not only on the health or wellbeing of individuals but also on the environment, falls within the domain of my political and legal responsibility as Minister."

She declares that she had "in fact prioritised the issue of air quality, not only in the Highveld Priority Area but on a national scale".

The so-called Deadly Air case, brought to court in 2019 by GroundWork, an environmental-rights organization, and Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action was seen as a key test of the government's resolve to deal with some of the world's worst air pollution.

The Highveld Priority Area, which includes much of northeastern Mpumalanga province and part of the central Gauteng region, is the site of 12 coal-fired Eskom power plants, and an oil refinery and coal-to-fuel plant owned by Sasol. A Greenpeace study conducted in 2018 showed Mpumalanga had the worst nitrogen-dioxide emissions from power plants of any area globally.

Together Eskom and Sasol emit more than half of South Africa's greenhouse gases. The country is the 13th biggest source of the climate-warning emissions, according to Global Carbon Atlas. Eskom produces more than 80% of South Africa’s power from coal-fired plants.

The plants also emit sulfur dioxide, mercury and fine particulate matter that cause illnesses ranging from asthma to lung cancer and contribute to birth defects, strokes and heart attacks.