Blog | 23rd Sep, 2021

Why we’re taking the EPA to court

After a drawn-out review of coal power station licences, Victoria’s EPA did very little about toxic air pollution and chose not to place limits on greenhouses gases. Now we’re challenging that decision in the Supreme Court.

This article first appeared in issue 36 of Environment Victoria News, you can read it here >>

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In March this year Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) finally announced new licence conditions for the state’s three remaining coal power stations. After a three year wait, a Freedom Of Information (FOI) request, and a public campaign to get the EPA to finish the review, the results were a bitter disappointment.

The EPA's review of coal power station licences failed to deliver any action to limit greenhouse gases.

Coal power stations face NO limits on greenhouse gas emissions under the new licences, and there were only minor tweaks to toxic air pollution limits. Under the new licences they would be allowed to continue polluting at dangerous levels, far beyond what is acceptable in places like the US and Europe (read our full media release in response to the announcement here).

So, with legal representation from Environment Justice Australia, we’re challenging the EPA’s decision, which prioritises the interests of power station owners over the health of the community and our environment.

Join our case and fight the EPA in court with a gift today >>

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

This landmark case will be the first time the Climate Change Act (2017) has been tested in court. It will also be the first to challenge the loose regulation of toxic air pollution from coal-burning power stations in Victoria.

Victoria’s key climate legislation – the Climate Change Act (2017) – requires the EPA to consider climate change in their review of coal power station licences. It’s hard to see how they could have done that properly and chosen to do nothing. So we’re putting the question before a judge to decide.

If we win, the EPA will likely have to re-do their homework and remake their decision, this time actually complying with the law. 

The power station owners (AGL, EnergyAustralia and Alinta) benefited from the EPA’s decision, so they’re also named as defendants. And while it’s likely to be several weeks before we face them in hearings, we’re expecting them to come out hard against us.

Having the support of thousands of Victorians like you means we can take on government agencies and big polluters. We can hold them accountable. And we can WIN!

HOW HAS THE EPA FAILED?

Victoria’s coal-burning power stations pump 120,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere each day (that’s about 40 percent of Victoria’s total emission). They’re also the biggest single source of toxic pollutants like sulfur dioxide, fine particles (PM2.5) and mercury.

Despite the dangers, Victoria’s coal power stations have been described by experts as “some of the more poorly controlled coal-fired power stations in the world”. Their loose licence conditions allow levels of pollution far beyond what is considered safe in places like the US, Europe, India and China.

Exposed: The dirty secrets of Victoria’s coal burning power stations

Environment Victoria

Unlike the air in the Latrobe Valley, what’s clear is that Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority can and must set tougher licence conditions to protect our health, land and water.

This has a very real impact on our environment and health. The first peer-reviewed study of the health impacts of coal-burning power in Australia found that air pollution from Victorian coal power stations cause 205 premature deaths, 259 low birthweight babies, and 4,376 children with asthma each year.

As Victoria’s environment watchdog, the EPA has the power, and the responsibility, to protect the community and our environment from this pollution. They have the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through annual limits or emissions intensity standards. But they chose not to. They could have required the use of existing technology that reduces some toxic pollution by more than 85 percent and save lives. Again, they chose not to.

It’s a remarkable failure for a review that took the EPA more than 3 years to complete.

Victorians deserve an Environment Protection Authority that has the guts to put the health of our community and our climate above the interests of big polluters. That’s why we’re taking them to court.

Why we need greenhouse pollution limits on coal power

Environment Victoria

A deep dive into why greenhouse limits matter and how the EPA could implement them.

Background to the licence review

For years the Latrobe Valley community has been demanding cleaner air, and back in November 2017 the EPA announced they were reviewing the licences of Victoria’s coal power stations. According to the EPA, their intention was to keep “up to date with changing science, environmental conditions and community standards”.

Initially they only asked for input from the power station owners: EnergyAustralia, AGL, and Alinta Energy. But together with Environmental Justice Australia and community groups in the Latrobe Valley, we pushed them to open up the review to public input. Unsurprisingly they heard a lot about climate change and air pollution as the top issues.

This was the first review of power station licences since the introduction of Victoria’s Climate Change Act and there was a growing expectation that the EPA would finally tighten the historically weak toxic pollution limits and add limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

They finally announced the new licences in March this year, more than 1200 days after they began.

ANALYSIS: The EPA has taken almost THREE YEARS to review coal power station licences

Environment Victoria

It took the EPA more than three year to review coal power station licences. Here's a look into how the process unfolded.