The Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs recently held a meeting concerning the minimum emission standards created in terms of the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act 39 of 2004. The purpose of the meeting was to update the Portfolio Committee on the ongoing discussions between the Department of Environmental Affairs (“DEA”) and industry to find a sustainable solution to reduce SO₂ emissions to the levels contemplated in the Minimum Emission Standards.
The Minimum Emission Standards were published in November 2013. In terms of these standards, all new plants were required to comply with the new plant emission standards with immediate effect. All existing plants were required to comply with the existing plant standards by 1 April 2015 and the new plant standards by 1 April 2020. If an operation was unable to meet these standards, they could apply for a postponement.
The postponement application requires that the applicant conduct an air pollution impact assessment, provide a detailed justification and reasons for the postponement application and subject the application to a public participation process.
If the application is accepted, the National Air Quality Officer and the Licensing Authority could grant the postponement for up to 5 years at a time on condition that the postponement could be reviewed if the operation fails to conform to the ambient air quality standards. The postponement could also be withdrawn upon representations from the affected operation or community.
Meetings with Sasol and Eskom in January 2018
Sasol and Eskom are two of the biggest contributors to SO₂ in the country. Both of these companies have applied for postponements in respect of their various operations.
Sasol’s postponement applications were based on the fact that it was practically and economically unviable for it to retrofit certain of its facilities. It was suggested that the Minimum Emissions Standards regulations be amended to allow for flexibility in respect of SO₂ compliance by declaring SO₂ a priority pollutant and regulating its emission using a Pollution Prevention Plan. The DEA did not accept this proposal and criticized Sasol for not addressing the issue with sufficient urgency.
Eskom also claimed that it was not feasible to retrofit many of their power stations with suitable technology as 8 of its affected power stations would be decommissioned by 2030.
The DEA have indicated that it is planning on putting in place a regulatory tool in place which will allow once off postponements with no option for further postponements and to make allowance for those operations which cannot make the investment to comply with the Minimum Emissions Standards, will be able to decommission the operations subject to conditions to be determined.
The Portfolio Committee concluded that on-going discussions between the DEA and industry to find a solution for ensuring SO₂ compliance are necessary. However, based on the DEA’s responses to the submissions from Sasol and Eskom, it appears that the DEA is not willing to compromise on the SO₂ levels contained in the Minimum Emissions Standards.