Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy last week gazetted the doubling of minimum emission standards (MES) for sulphur dioxide, weakening the limit from 500 mg/Nm3 to 1 000 mg/Nm3.
Greenpeace Africa climate and energy campaigner Bukelwa Nzimande has responded negatively to the change in legislation, stating that it was already a “weak” standard to begin with.
She says government has effectively decided to approve another 3 300 deaths each year.
“In a time of great fear and uncertainty, South Africa needed to see that the government had the courage and political will to address issues that have threatened, and now have express permission to continue to threaten, our livelihood,” the environmental organisation said.
Nzimande believes air pollution exposure can lead to increased incidence and severity of some respiratory infections, which, coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic, was nothing short of irresponsible.
State-owned Eskom and petrochemicals manufacturer Sasol have since 2018 applied for various postponements or suspension of limits related to MES, saying it would be too expensive to install cleaner technology at a time when the economy was not growing sufficiently.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s National Air Quality Officer Dr Thuli Khumalo was due to make a decision on Eskom’s application for a postponement from complying with the MES at the end of March.
In response to that, Greenpeace Africa in a statement earlier in March said granting Eskom the postponement could have implications as far reaching as the country’s water security.
Former Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane had proposed an amendment to the MES that allowed solid fuel combustion installations such as coal boilers, which Eskom’s power stations and petrochemicals giant Sasol’s 17 coal boilers use, to emit double the amount of harmful and health-hazardous pollutant sulphur dioxide.
The intention of the amendment was to provide for existing plants to comply with a sulphur dioxide minimum emissions limit of 1 000 mg/Nm3 instead of 500 mg/Nm3, which may be indicative of the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries’ appreciation of the relevant industry’s inability to comply at present.
This meant that existing plants needed to reduce emissions from the 3 500 mg/Nm3 standard to 1 000 mg/Nm3.