Paltry fine “will not be a disincentive to pollute”

Vales Point Power Station

Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) says that the paltry fine of $30,000 for pollution at Vales Point Power Station sends the signal that public health is worth less than corporate welfare.

As reported in the Chronicle on October 14, the NSW Environment Protection Authority fined Sunset Power International Pty Ltd, the parent company of Delta Electricity which operates the power station, for an asbestos pollution incident in September, 2018.

EJA lawyers say Delta has been inadequately penalised for a large stockpile of asbestos and other waste being spread across a 30,000sqm area at the power station’s ash dam on Ruttleys Rd, between Lake Macquarie and Mannering Lake.

“This paltry fine for serious environmental breaches is unlikely to materially affect Delta’s bottom line and so will not be a disincentive to pollute,” said EJA lawyer, Jocelyn McGarity.

“It’s disappointing to note that although the EPA recently amended its Prosecution Guidelines to include the consideration of human health and environmental justice principles, it has obviously given these factors little weight in deciding not to prosecute Delta.

“Had the EPA taken legal action, the maximum penalty available for each breach was $2M.

“A final clean-up notice hasn’t even been issued yet for the remainder of the dumped material on the site.

“The $30,000 fine is a negligible sum for the privately owned power station, valued at $750M, especially given the news last week that taxpayers are funding a multi-million dollar upgrade to the ageing power station, without specifying air pollution controls.”

EJA lawyers say Vales Point already emits pollutant concentrations that dramatically exceed limits set by comparable countries, due to inadequate pollution controls.

Vales Point also enjoys an exemption from the stricter oxides of nitrogen standards applicable to other NSW coal burners.

“These factors must be addressed to protect the public from exposure,” McGarity said.

“For decades, communities living next to the Vales Point coal burning power station have raised concerns about the health impacts of coal pollution, including poorly managed coal ash dumps.

“These ash dumps, even before being filled with asbestos, as in the case of Vales Point, are loaded with dangerous heavy metals that can leach into local waterways like Lake Macquarie and pose a significant threat to the local community.

“The fact that the Morrison Government is seriously considering handing over millions of dollars of public money to prop up this ageing, failing power station when it continues to harm community health and breach environmental laws is frankly appalling.

“Instead of rewarding these industries with public funds to operate for longer, governments must urgently move to address the serious flaws in our regulatory system.

“Our EPAs should be empowered with stronger national pollution standards which would make sure that these power stations have proper pollution controls on their smoke stacks and ash dams to protect community health,” McGarity said.

Sue Murray