On Thursday, Greenpeace activists along with community members from the coalfields around Witbank protested outside the Department of Environmental Affairs to urge the National Air Quality Officer, Thulie Mdluli to reject state owned power utility Eskom’s application for postponement.
“Today we are rolling out the green carpet for the National Air Quality Officer, because we believe that her decision to approve or deny Eskom's application for long-term postponements from complying with air quality legislation is critically important,” said Michael O'Brien-Onyeka, executive director of campaigning organisation Greenpeace Africa.
“Greenpeace calls on Dr Mdluli to do the right thing, and turn down Eskom's application, thereby protecting people's health and holding one of South Africa's mega-polluters accountable.”
According to Greenpeace’s research, if Eskom’s coal power stations do not comply with the minimum emission standards, it could cause 20,000 premature deaths.
If Eskom’s application is approved, thousands of people in the coalfields will continue to bear the health burden of living in the shadows of coal power stations.
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Nomcebo Makhubelo from the Mpumalanga Youth Against Climate Change group, added that Emalahleni in Mpumalanga has 12 Eskom power stations, which will affect local communities and violate constitutional rights.
“We see Eskom's application as a disgrace because they knew since 2010 that they had to meet the standards but they ignored this. So now that they see that the time has come to comply, they want more time so that they can continue to pollute,” she said.
“We are urging the National Air Quality Officer to put people before profit. The reality is that coal kills, and the true cost of coal is destruction at every step. Eskom is essentially asking for a free ticket to pollute and kill, and we think that the answer should be a clear ‘No',” added O'Brien-Onyeka.
“At a minimum, existing coal power stations must comply with the Minimum Emission Standards, which are still lower than those recommended by the World Health Organisation.”
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So far, Greenpeace has received 25,000 signatures on its petition which calls for Mdluli to reject Eskom’s application.
“Greenpeace believes that no-one should be above the law, not even Eskom. The constitution states that South Africans have the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being, and we urge the National Air Quality officer not to overlook that.” concluded O'Brien-Onyeka.