Geraldine McClure is angry. Very angry. But thrilled, too.
The Churchill resident is angry with the EPA and the Victorian government for failing to protect the people of the Latrobe Valley from the insidious effects of polluting coal power stations.
But Geraldine is thrilled that Environment Victoria is taking the EPA to the Supreme Court over its disappointing review of coal power station licences.
“I’m angrier with the EPA and the government than I am with the companies that run the power stations,” Geraldine says. “You expect private companies to be greedy, whereas the EPA and the government has a mandate to serve and protect all Victorians. And it’s not doing that. The EPA has the power to hold the coal station companies to account but it does not use that power.”
Geraldine has lived in Churchill, five kilometres from the old Hazelwood station, for 14 years. She works in community health across the fields of mental health, disability and carer/support.
“There is no end to the stories of families with asthma, of coal dust allergies, of friends whose health problems mysteriously disappear when they go away for a few weeks, but then return when they come back from holiday.”
A peer-reviewed study of the health impacts of coal-burning power in Australia found that air pollution from Victorian coal power stations causes 205 premature deaths, 259 low birthweight babies, and 4,376 asthma symptoms in children each year.
“If I had known about the extent of the real-life impact of the pollution when I moved here 14 years ago from interstate, I may not have moved at all, or may have just made sure I only stayed on a short-term basis.”
As well as her community health work, Geraldine is a member of Healthy Futures, a network of health professionals, students and supporters organising to address climate change and related health issues.
“When I first came to the Valley I would often hear people saying that ‘things are fine’, that ‘things are better than what they used to be’, that ‘there’s nothing to worry about’, that ‘it is only steam coming out of the chimney stacks’. I didn’t grow up in the area, and when I moved here I didn’t initially have the headspace to think about the issues. You know, you get busy with life.
“But Healthy Futures, and then the Hazelwood mine fire of 2014 opened my eyes. Just as there is no end to the stories – and statistics – of poor health, there is no end to the stories of the power companies cutting corners.
“And just because the effects on health may not be instant or obvious, this does not make them less real.”
Geraldine knows that life in the Valley could be so much better. “The problem can be fixed – there is technology available to reduce the pollution, and therefore improve our health, by over 90%. That’s what’s so frustrating. That’s what makes me angry.
“Environment Victoria’s challenge in the Supreme Court shows that we are sending a message to the EPA, that we will stand up and fight.”