Environmental lawyers challenge EPA and EnergyAustralia in VCAT over pollution control at Yallourn Power Station
Environmental lawyers have launched legal proceedings in a bid to uncover documents about the operations and maintenance of EnergyAustralia’s pollution control technology at Yallourn Power Station in the Latrobe Valley.
Lawyers at Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) have long suspected that the electrostatic dust precipitator (EDP) at the power station, installed to protect the community from toxic fine particle pollution and dust, has not been operating effectively, after receiving reports from local residents about layers of coal ash covering their homes.
On 20 December 2019, EJA issued review proceedings in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to challenge the Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA) decision to heavily redact information contained in reports about the EDP which detail the historical performance and current condition of the power station’s EDPs.
“Residents of the Latrobe Valley, particularly in Newborough and Yallourn North, have a right to know if EnergyAustralia is endangering their health by operating the only substantial pollution control inefficiently at Yallourn Power Station,” said Bronya Lipski, Lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia.
In March 2019, EJA made a Freedom of Information Request to the Victorian EPA seeking a copy of reports which detail the assessment and condition of the power station’s EDPs. The EPA determined to release the reports with content so heavily redacted the information provided was meaningless.
The redactions were made on the basis that the documents contain commercially sensitive information of EnergyAustralia’s, who claim that release of information would reveal:
- The performance and operation of the EDP;
- The current condition and life of the EDP;
- The consultant’s conclusions with respect to improving the performance of the EDPs;
- Risks associated with the EDPs; and
- Business decisions of EnergyAustralia Yallourn with respect to the EDPs.
The case comes after lawyers at EJA exhausted other avenues of obtaining information on the state of Yallourn’s EDPs.
“It is unclear why the EPA believes information about Yallourn power station’s outdated pollution controls is so commercially sensitive that it cannot be released to the public. This information should be publicly available to help the Latrobe Valley community understand what EnergyAustralia is doing to control pollution at Yallourn and protect their health,” Ms Lipski continued.
“The community has a right to know if EnergyAustralia is using failing pollution controls at Yallourn Power Station and endangering the health of the Latrobe Valley community,” Ms Lipski concluded.
The EPA has been reviewing Victoria’s power station licences since 2016. EJA and members of the Latrobe Valley community have been advocating for the EPA to use this opportunity to require power station operators to install a full suite of best practice pollution control equipment to protect human health in the Latrobe Valley. No decision has been made.
Victoria’s coal-fired power stations are among some of the most polluting in the world. Coal-fired power stations globally are required to install a suite of pollution control equipment that can reduce toxic pollutants by more than 85 percent. In Victoria however, power stations rely solely on EDPs.