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Activists and South African gov’t face off in court over coal pollution

PUBLISHED: Mon, 17 May 2021 12:07:11 GMT

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* Failure to act violates S.Africa’s constitution, campaigners say

* Government says tougher regulation would hurt economy and jobs

By Tim Cocks

JOHANNESBURG, May 17 (Reuters) – South Africa’s failure to tackle toxic levels of air pollution produced by burning coal is a violation its post-Apartheid constitution, activists and a U.N. rights expert will say in court on Monday.

Campaigners are suing the South African government in the high court, hoping to force tougher action against heavy polluters such as state power company Eskom and liquid fuel producer Sasol. The campaigners say tougher action is required to enforce a constitutional guarantee of the right to an environment not harmful to health.

Environment Minister Barbara Creecy acknowledges that air pollution is a problem, but her submission to the court in response to the claimants says the constitution does not require the ministry to impose stiffer rules.

The ministry says environmental concerns conflict with economic considerations: the need to generate power, nearly 90% of which comes from coal, but also jobs in a coal belt with high poverty rates.

A spokesman for the department of environmental affairs said he could not comment while the matter was before the court.

Representatives of Eskom and Sasol did not respond to requests for comment

(Additional reporting by Tanisha Heiberg and Alexander Winning in Johannesburg Editing by David Goodman)

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