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Vales Point exemption slammed by environmental lawyers, doctors

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Environmental lawyers and doctors have slammed the NSW EPA’s decision to grant Delta Electricity a special exemption from legal air pollution limits at the Vales Point Power Station for another five years.   

The regulator’s judgement came despite an NSW parliamentary committee calling for updated and tighter laws earlier this month, to bring NSW’s controls in line with international and World Health Organisation standards and to reduce harmful health impacts. 

The Lake Macquarie facility has already been exempted from legal pollution limits for almost a decade, which allowed it to emit toxic nitrogen oxides at almost twice the rate otherwise permitted under NSW laws.

Six health organisations, including Healthy Futures, the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, Lung Foundation Australia, Doctors for the Environment Australia and the Climate and Health Alliance wrote to CEO Tracey Mackey in November urging the EPA to reject Delta’s application.

“We know from NSW Health that power stations are the third-largest cause of harm from fine particulate pollution in NSW, greater than every diesel vehicle on the roads,” said Dr Jazmin Daniells, emergency medicine registrar and conjoint fellow with the University of Newcastle.

“The NSW Government should implement the unanimous recommendations of last month’s parliamentary inquiry and clean up power station pollution as initially planned.

“Allowing this exemption and allowing this pollution is an irresponsible decision that will have negative health impacts, bringing harm to Australian children and adults.”

The decision also locks in dangerous emissions, which are bad for human health, cause heart attacks and stroke, asthma in children and contribute to hundreds of babies born with low birth weight among many other conditions, which lead to hundreds of premature deaths each year.  

“The licence has been trimmed slightly but current pollution releases will continue at almost the same rate,” Newcastle GP Dr Ben Ewald said.

“The EPA has squandered this opportunity to improve the health of the surrounding community, especially those children with asthma due to power station pollution.” 

Environmental Justice Australia lawyer Charley Brumby-Rendell also weighed in on the debate.

“The current pollution limits are already lax by global standards,” she said.

“Despite this, the EPA continues to grant Vales Point an exemption rather than putting the health of all NSW residents first.

“Delta will continue business as usual as the new licence conditions largely reflect current emissions.

“The EPA’s decision will do nothing to reduce toxic pollution which harms people’s health.”

Environmental groups have long called for tougher pollution standards and requirements for power stations to install controls, which can cut toxic pollutants by more than 85%.

“Technology used widely around the world is proven to significantly reduce the risk of these toxic pollutants and should be used widely in Australia,” Ms Brumby-Rendell said. 

“The EPA should require all power station operators to minimise the risk of harm to people and the environment, instead of granting exemptions from existing air pollution laws.” 

Following campaigning by community organisations, the EPA was forced to belatedly accept public submissions.

The vast majority of more than 1,800 responses, including 750 unique from community members, healthcare workers, public health experts and atmospheric scientists, opposed Delta’s application and requested the EPA require the company to install pollution controls.

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