The Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs met with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), and stakeholders to discuss issues that pertained to Minimum Emission Standards (MES) on air quality management plans after Green Peace Africa’s report on Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) pollution hotspots in Mpumalanga. The debates were started because the Committee was concerned about the situation of the air quality in Mpumalanga.
Stakeholders Green Peace Africa, the Centre for Environmental Rights and Groundwork expressed concerns on the health effects of NO2 pollution hotspots at Mpumalanga and urban centres based on the satellite data provided by Green Peace Africa. Green Peace Africa informed the Committee of the upward review of SO2 MES levels from 500mg/m3 to 1000mg/m3 and called on the DEA to withdraw this weak MES with immediate effect; refuse to grant further postponements to comply with MES for ESKOM’s coal-fired power stations in South Africa; decommission coal fired stations that did not comply and put forward an air pollution action plan. The Centre for Environmental Rights gave health reasons to show that the country did not need coal fired plants; showed that South Africa’s MES for SO2 and Particulate Matter was extremely lower compared with China, Germany and Europe and said that based on the National Environmental Management Air Quality Act 2004 (Act No 39 of 2004); the DEA could not grant ESKOM postponements when ESKOM had not followed the conditions to qualify for postponements. Groundwork asserted that SASOL, ESKOM and the DEA were collaborating to undermine air quality governance in the country and expressed concerns that there was no reduction in NO2 pollution hotspots levels because the air quality management plan was inefficient and inadequate. It questioned the DEAs’ continual statement that its Minister would address air quality when citizens had not noted improvements.
The Department of Environmental Affairs’ (DEA) acknowledged the satellite data showing the NO2 levels but disputed the claims based on the fact that the satellite data compared different seasons; did not reflect that Nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels had been reduced between 2005 and 2014, and the fact that there was no basis to link troposphere levels with impact on human health. The DEA reminded Members that postponements were legally provided for in the legislation and further informed Members that traffic and burning sites affected ground level NO2. The DEA also said that the air quality management plan has been developed by the Minister for Environmental Affairs in 2012 and South Africa Weather Services continually monitored ambient air quality in the Highveld priority Areas (HPAs). The other stakeholders the CSIR and North West University supported the thoughts of the DEA and disputed the claims using scientific theories and models. They all noted that satellite data was collected in 2005 and argued that ground level air that impacted on the air breathed by humans was not affected by NO2 troposphere emissions. Both stakeholders agreed that traffic impacted sites and burning sites affected ground level NO2 but noted that, although the satellite platform used was a good tool for researchers,’ future studies should improve on the method used, the input of veld fires should be taken into account and long term trends should be monitored to improve emission estimates to successfully model impacts.
The Committee expressed concerns on the claim that Mpumalanga Highveld Priority Area (HPA) emitted the largest NOx levels in the world but noted that it had been disputed based on seasonal levels. However the Committee was of the opinion that the situation should not be glossed over but addressed by the DEA. The Committee asked the DEA questions on NOx levels in the troposphere, Minimum Emission Standards (MES), engagements with the Department of Energy, and its migrating efforts since 2005. Members also asked questions on the monitoring programs, the Paris agreement, health implications of emissions, and the upward revision of SO2 levels in October 2018.
ESKOM and SASOL also briefed the Committee on MES and Air quality. Both agencies briefed the Committee on its compliance status, efforts to meet the level of compliance on emissions which included installation of new technology, retrofit plans and decommissioning at the plants. SASOL also informed the Committee of its offset plans. The Committee asked ESKOM questions on costs for applying new technology and postponement and asked both ESKOM and SASOL questions on offset programs and postponement plans.
The DEA was also scheduled to brief the Committee on the National Emission status of the country but it prepared for a report on only the applications approved for postponement of compliance based on the of National Environmental Management Air Quality Act 2004 (Act No 39 of 2004). The Committee agreed that the presentation of both reports would be during the next meeting.
The Committee mandated the DEA to properly monitor the offset programs of agencies. The Committee is of the opinion that high NOx levels in Mpumalanga should not be glossed over but reviewed by the DEA because of the health implications. During its next meeting, the Committee would review the DEAs’ reasons for the upward review of SO2 MES levels and the report on the applications for postponements. The Committee appealed to the DEA to not continue with the upward review of SO2 MES levels because the Committee initiated the discussion and it needs to justify the upward review on SO2 MES levels. The recommendations of the Committee needed to be followed and the acting DG was asked to communicate to the Minister that what the Committee had earlier recommended was not implemented.
The Chairperson welcomed all Members and the teams from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), ESKOM, SASOL, Green Peace and the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) and Groundwork Consulting. He invited Green Peace to make its presentation on Air Pollution in Mpumalanga.
Briefing by Green Peace Africa on Air Pollution in Mpumalanga
Mr Happy Khambule, Senior Political Advisor, Green Peace, introduced Ms Melita Steele, Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager to the Committee. He said Green Peace Africa operated based on Section 24 of the Constitution and strived to attain a healthy environment. He informed the Committee that Green Peace Africa would share satellite data on air pollution in South Africa and compare it with some countries. Air pollution is caused by emission of Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), Sulphur dioxide (SO2) and carbon monoxide, but the brief would focus mainly on NO2 air pollution. He invited Ms Melita Steele Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager Green Peace Africa to brief the Committee on the satellite data on air pollution.
Ms Steele said the satellite data revealed that NO2, and NOx were dangerous air pollutants, that caused respiratory symptoms and lung damage on acute exposure, and led to increasing risks of chronic diseases in long-term exposure. The analysis shows NO2 level’s averages from June to August 2018 during the winter months in a hotspot area. The satellite data measures the amount of NO2 across the full height of the troposphere and is not directly comparable to ground level measurements. Coal oil and natural gas burns lead to the emission of NO2. She said a hotspot area covers about a 25 km radius and the world’s largest NO2 air pollution hotspot across six continents is Mpumalanga Province in South Africa. Although hotspots exist in China and overall NO2 emissions in China are high, it has reduced its emissions by installing emission control devices. Pretoria and Johannesburg are also affected by extreme NO2 pollution levels due to proximity and the regular east wind from Mpumalanga. ESKOM completely ignores the public health impact of NO2 pollution on the air quality of this densely populated area. Although, ESKOM has the biggest coal clusters it continually excuses emission compliance yet South Africa’s Minimum Emission Standards (MES) are weak compared with other countries in the world. In 2018 ESKOM is again applying for postponements rather than complying with the MES for nitrogen oxides (NOx - which includes NO2) for 16 of its 19 power plants. Greenpeace strongly opposes this application, and believes that this satellite data provides more evidence that air pollution is a crisis in South Africa, and ESKOM’s coal-fired power stations must either comply with air quality legislation or be decommissioned. Also the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) has decided to unlawfully weaken SO2 emission standards from its plants. In October 2018, the DEA’s updated framework for Air Quality Management significantly weakened the MES. The MES for old installations was originally set at 500mg/m3, but it was revised by the DEA upwards to 1000mg/m3, which is 30 times more than what coal-fired power stations are allowed to emit in China. The revision was not part of the original public participation proposal and is therefore undemocratic and unlawful.
Mr Khambule said Greenpeace calls on the DEA to withdraw this weak MES with immediate effect, refuse to grant further postponements to comply with MES for ESKOM’s coal-fired power stations in South Africa and decommission coal fired stations that do not comply. Also the DEA should put forward an air pollution action plan for Mpumalanga, Johannesburg, Pretoria and all other high priority areas, using the guidelines and maximum air pollution levels of the World Health Organization (WHO), and international emission standards for coal-fired power stations. The DEA should set up concrete measures to improve the air pollution levels in those regions and ensure that they comply with the air pollution standards within 5 years. It should introduce independent, regular and reliable air pollution monitoring, which should be made available to the public. The DEA should ensure that new coal-fired power stations would not be established in the national electricity plan/Integrated Resource Plan (2018), cancel unit 5 and 6 in the Kusile coal power plant in Mpumalanga and decommission 50% of current coal-fired power stations by 2030 in line with the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report.
The Chairperson invited the DEA to respond to Green Peace Africa’s brief.
Briefing by the Acting Director-General (DG) Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA)
The Acting DG DEA Ms Limpho Makotoko introduced members of her team and acknowledged the satellite data showing the NO2 levels, but objected to the assertion that the levels at Mpumalanga were the worst in the world. She invited Ms Elizabeth Masekoameng, Director Atmospheric Policy and Planning, to brief the Committee.
Ms Elizabeth Masekoameng said the levels in the satellite data were winter levels that were why it was high, similarly, the levels during winter in the USA and China are much higher. She supported this claim that reported levels for Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) in European Union, China and the USA and stated that South Africa’s levels were not the highest. Also the Green Peace report did not show that the annual NOx levels had reduced between 2005 and 2014. During this period, NOx levels in Pretoria and Johannesburg had reduced by 24% while in Mpumalanga there had been at a 10-30% reduction. The report by Green Peace did not represent ground level data but tropospheric data. It can be misleading to link troposphere levels with human health impact. The biggest concern to human health on ground level is particulate matter levels. She invited Members to note that postponements were legally provided for in legislation. An air quality management plan has been developed by the Minister for Environmental Affairs in 2012. The DEA would engage with stakeholders as one life lost as a result of NOx is a life too many. South African Weather Services continually monitors ambient air quality in the Highveld Priority Areas (HPAs) also other independent companies like SASOL and ESKOM monitored air quality. There is also a call to monitor traffic impacted sites and burning sites to investigate Ground level NO2.
The Chairperson asked the DEA to respond to the claim made by Green Peace on MES of SO2.
Ms Masekoameng said her colleague would respond to the claim.
The Chairperson asked if it was on the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory System (NAEIS) report.
Ms Masekoameng confirmed that it was on the NAEIS report.
The Chairperson invited Prof Rebecca Garland, Director Quality Assurance, CSIR to brief the Committee.
Briefing by the CSIR on NO2 pollution and its impacts on the HPA
Professor Rebecca Garland gave the mandate, research impact areas and the areas of focus of her team which specialised in atmospheric modelling. She said that improvement of air quality takes time and money expenditure but because the country had limited and finds it was imperative that sources and impacts are identified correctly in order to apply correct targeted measures to improve air quality. She pointed out the multiple sources of air pollution, where emissions from coal gas were emitted in the stratosphere and how ambient air quality was affected by combustion fires and vehicle exhausts. She said comparisons could not be made on if Mpumalanga was the largest hotspot for NOx because of seasons as mentioned by Ms Masekoameng. Hence when air quality is modelled a correction factor should be considered. Green Peace compared the peak levels of NOx in South Africa to months in which low levels of NOx are recorded in China, USA and Europe. The Committee should note that the high activity months for NOx emission in China, USA and Europe is January while for South Africa its July and August. This is a troposphere satellite data and not a ground level data people breathe air at ground level not from the hotspot. The troposphere satellite data needs to be collected for all times in the day to be able to compare not one time per day. The transport of pollutants need to simulated to see where it goes and what impacts it has through air quality modelling which is done by the Quality Assurance team at CSIR. Although NO2 impacts health and ecosystems, it is regulated. Ground level NO2 is higher at traffic impacted sites. NO2 reacts in the atmosphere with volatile organic compounds to form ozone and particles which are harmful. CSIR is presently working on modelling the impact of NO2 hotspot on atmospheric chemistry, particulate matter and ozone. The evidence provided by recent air pollution maps in Johannesburg and Pretoria does not support the claim that coal-fired power plants are the only source of NO2. Excess NO2 in Johannesburg and Pretoria are linked to traffic sites and weekend burning effects. The satellite platform used is a good tool for researchers but future studies should improve on the method used, the input of fires should be taken into account and long term trends should be monitored to improve emission estimates to successfully model impacts.
The Chairperson invited Professor Harold Annegarn from North West University to brief the Committee.
Briefing by Professor Harold Annegarn from North West University
Professor Harold Annegarn analysed the claims made by Green Peace based on the scientific and factual content, structure of the argument and the article of scientific communique. He disputed that Mpumalanga was the largest hotspot for NOx in the world because the satellite data was not holistic; however he agreed that it had a large cluster coal-fired power stations owned by ESKOM. He did not dispute the claim on the health impacts of NOx as it is well known. He said the claim by Green Peace that the MES was weak is false. He disputed the claim that residents were exposed to NOx from the stratosphere because people only breathe in the ground level air. The report is not supported by emission location, dispersion models, impact assessment at ground level sites and monitoring and model validation. He informed the Committee that emissions were not exposures. High emission levels in the troposphere did not automatically translate to elevated ground exposure. The information reported is not new as it was received in 2005, the tone of the brief is of strong advocacy and it is calculated to create alarm. The demands by Green Peace Africa imply that the DEA does not have an Air Quality action plan, and it has implemented it while taking into account its mandates. The WHO guideline standards does not have jurisdiction in South Africa, and the NOx ground levels are monitored to ensure that it complies with South African standards. He said the brief should be dismissed and not be considered when policies were made in any of the air quality planning actions. It is a piece of propaganda containing flaws.
The Chairperson invited members to engage the briefs.
Ms J Edwards (DA) Alternate expressed concerns on the DEA’s stand that because South Africa did not have the largest NOx levels in the troposphere, the country should not be bothered and should rather be bothered with particulate matter. She said if Mpumalanga had the largest NOx levels in South Africa it should concern the DEA because it impacted on the health of citizens. Other speakers have corroborated the fact that traffic and burning sites had a higher impact on NOx than emissions from the troposphere. However the DEA has to deal with the high NOx emissions at Mpumalanga troposphere that flow into Pretoria and Johannesburg by clarifying when it would stop granting extensions on emission compliance. She asked the DEA to confirm if it had engaged with the Department of Energy to implement a catch-up plan to ensure that the countries’ MES matched with best practices. If the satellite data on NOx levels have been collated since 2005 as mentioned by Prof Annegarn, then the DEA needs to state the migrating efforts it has put up since 2005.
Mr T Hadebe (DA) asked the DEA to explain why it had revised the MES for old plants upward from 500mg/m3 to 1000mg/m3. He also asked the DEA to confirm if South Africa could honour the Paris agreement on the Peak Plateau and Decline of pollutants.
Mr R Purdon (DA) also asked the DEA to respond to why it had reviewed the Air Quality Framework upward in October 2018 and to clarify if the review had inputs from public participants. He said the Committee was aware that even though the DEA said it was monitoring the levels of pollutants the monitoring by the DEA was inefficient. Despite the high levels of NOx from ESKOM coal-fired plants which has caused a national disaster the Committee is aware that ESKOM funds the DEA’s monitoring programs.
Mr S Makhubele (ANC) said the Committee agreed that postponements were legal provisions but the DEA has to work within the conditions to enforce MES at some point if it exposes people to danger. He expressed concerns that at some time health implications would occur even though the emissions were not within breathing ground levels.
The Chairperson asked the DEA to respond to the statement made by Professor Annegarn that the claim by Green Peace that MES was weak is false. He asked the DEA to respond to how it had arrived at an upward review on MES in October 2018 even though the Committee would still get submissions on the Air Quality management Plan.
Ms Limpho Makotoko said that the DEA agreed that the emission levels were high in Mpumalanga and the Province had been declared as a hotspot. She also informed the Committee that there was an Air Quality management Plan for Mpumalanga and the Vaal. Prof Annegarn said that the satellite data was not new information; this is true hence the DEA reported a decline in its brief after which mitigation plans had been implemented. The DEA also gets the point that it needs to monitor the impact of NOx at ground levels. The DEA has already started to engage with the Department of Energy on plans to decommission some coal plants. The DEA would achieve its commitments on the Paris agreement. She invited Mr Vumile Senene, Acting Chief Director Quality Management, the DEA to answer questions on postponements.
Mr Senene said there were transition periods for specific plants to comply but new plants are already compliant and there are no plans for postponements for new plants. The amendments that took place in October 2018 have a firm timeline for compliance. The old facilities have been given a timeline of 2025 to comply. The plants that have dated life spans would be decommissioned by 2030 because the DEA does not expect ESKOM to invest in plants that were at the end of their life spans. New plants are expected to be compliant on SO2 levels however the DEA is dealing with the facilities at the old plants. MES for old installations have received approval to postpone the date of compliance on SO2 MES levels and they have been upwardly reviewed from 500mg/m3 to 1000mg/m3.The Minister would officially communicate on the compliance plan.
The Chairperson said he did not understand the response. He noted that there was an upward review of SO2 levels MES from 500mg/m3 to 1000mg/m3.
Mr Senene said the DEA had received formal requests to explain the reasons for the upward reviewed from 500mg/m3 to 1000mg/m3. He said he could indicate some of the reasons but the Minister would respond to it in writing
The Chairperson mandated Mr Senene to respond as the information on the upward revision should be submitted voluntarily as it was done in October 2018. Also the Committee was asking because it was a Parliamentary enquiry hence the information should be submitted voluntarily.
Mr Senene said the DEA had engaged with ESKOM and SASOL on SO2 levels for air quality and had upwardly reviewed SO2 levels from 500mg/m3 to 1000mg/m3. The challenge was the implication of the compliance with 500mg/m3. The water demands associated with SO2 levels emission cleaning were high and this was presented to the Committee in February 2018. It was clear that it was not easily feasible for old plants. Also after a detailed analysis of the resources within the country and the technology available it was agreed to reduce the SO2 levels MES from 4000mg/m3 to 1000mg/m3 and not 500mg/m3. It was not because of a lack of investments, it was because of specific category one plants that emitted high SO2 levels. For other facilities there is a way to reduce the SO2 levels to 500mg/m3. And the DEA would send a detailed written report to the Committee after the Ministers’ brief.
The Chairperson said the Committee would still ask other questions on the upward review at later meetings. He asked if the DEA had a panel report.
Mr Senene said it was available.
The Chairperson asked the DEA to respond to the question on weaker MES when compared with other countries.
Mr Senene said in the past facilities in the country were allowed to emit pollutants in the troposphere but the DEA is presently trying to ensure compliance based on worldwide trends. DEA would revisit the review of SO2 levels in 2025 when new technologies have evolved. There would be improvements systematically; it requires time to begin compliance on low levels where facilities have been emitting without checks. The DEA agrees that when compared with best practices the country has a long way to go.
Mr R Purdon (DA) asked the DEA to indicate if it incorporated public participation when the SO2 levels were reviewed in October 2018.
Mr Senene explained the process followed and said that public participation was not part of the decision on the upward review of SO2 levels. However there were grounds for amendments to the process through the feedback received at the time.
The Chairperson noted that according to the DEAs’ response there was no public participation on upward review of SO2 levels. He said there would be further discussions on SO2 levels’ MES upward review during other meetings. He invited Prof Annegarn for comments.
Prof Annegarn said the Air quality Management Act of 2004 gave notice to priority areas and set emission monitoring and planning measures in place. At the time only a few air quality specialists and air quality managers were available at the DEA, but now these air quality officials have been trained. ESKOM has implemented measures for NOx reduction. He said he would not comment on SO2 levels because it was not part of the initial measures. The NOx in the breathing zone is at South African compliance levels so it is not a national disaster. The accepted technology at the time was to emit in the troposphere. It does not get into the rain if the damage from acid levels is below international standards. It does not affect humans but the long term effects on ecosystems have been published in peer reviewed journals. The situation is not yet ideal but there are reductions in the emissions. The DEA is tackling the NOx levels in a sensible way.
Prof Garland said there had been decreases in NOx levels at the hotspot however it is still a hotspot. As mentioned by Prof Annegarn it has been debated and published in peer reviewed journals and the NOx levels at ground level are below the international standards. However it impacts on the ozone layer if it comes in contact with Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as isoprene. Nature makes it difficult for NOx and VOC to come in contact at the same time. She said NOx emissions were important and apologised if she had given a wrong impression.
Mr Happy Khambule said the questions of Members were not addressed to Greenpeace Africa.
The Chairperson noted that Prof Harold Annegarn had challenged the brief of Green Peace Africa.
Mr Happy Khambule said it had compared the levels from the satellite data with the data from other countries. He noted that Professor Annegarns’ report was a challenge on the technical report but the brief by Green Peace Africa was on the health implications of NOx in the troposphere. He expressed concerns on the flimsy dismissal of the health concerns of the poisonous gases emitted by Prof Annegarn even though he addressed it scientifically. The DEA and Prof Garland have agreed that the hotspot is a challenge. He said Green Peace was available to bring in the sources of the satellite data.
Ms Steele said Green Peace Africa was concerned that ESKOM had not done any analysis on the hotspot. It is debatable to say that the NOx levels on human life in the ground level are low. Green Peace Africa is concerned that the DEA is weakening MES of SO2 levels from 500mg/m3 to 1000mg/m3. Green Peace Africa purposely compared the satellite data of the country with that of China. The current MES best practice is from 110mg/m3 but South Africa changed its own SO2 levels to 1000mg/m3. The claim that an Air Quality management plan is in place is inaccurate as what South Africa has at present is ineffective.
Mr Makhubele asked Prof Garland to comment on the statement by Green Peace Africa that South Africa’s’ MES are weak.
The Chairperson said he was interested as well but he wanted the response to be backed up with evidence. He mandated the DEA to send the information to the Committee in written form but encouraged the other organisations to forward it but ensure that it was backed up with evidence.
Prof Garland said the CSIR would submit the response in a written format with evidence.
Ms Samantha Keen, Energy Research Centre said the centre had models on long range transport for SO2 levels on air quality standards on ambient air pollution for Cape Town and the whole of South Africa. The findings can be sent to the Committee in a written format.
The Chairperson agreed that the findings could be forwarded to the Committee. He said the Committee had invited ESKOM and SASOL for the meeting but SASOL had declined because it was of the opinion that the enquiry was to respond to Green Peace Africa. The Committees’ invitation is a brief on MES and Air quality but SASOL had said the Green Peace Africa report did not affect them. During an earlier workshop, the Committee expressed concerns on postponements to comply with MES. At some time the postponements to comply with MES must end and there must be compliance due to health impacts. Industry must invest in new technology to ensure that health and mortality impacts are reduced. The Committee expresses its concerns and is not impressed with the upward review SO2 levels MES from 500mg/m3 to 1000mg/m3. The Committee is also concerned about the hotspot in Mpumalanga and would not accept that it is because there is a cluster of coal fired plants in the province. He invited Mr Chose Cheou, Divisional Executive Corporate Affairs at ESKOM to brief the Committee.
Briefing by ESKOM
Mr Chose Cheou introduced members of his team and said that the report would be given by Ms Deidre Herbst, Environment Manger at ESKOM.
Ms Deidre Herbst gave an overview and acknowledged the satellite image but disputed some of the assertions and linkages made by Green Peace. ESKOMs’ ambient air quality network shows that there is compliance with ambient SO2 and NOx standards although there is no compliance with PM 10 and PM 2.5 standards on the Mpumalanga Highveld. ESKOMs’ acknowledges that it has to reduce emissions, it has an emission reduction plan but there are delays in implementing the plan because of procurement challenges. ESKOM has shut down some units while some would be decommissioned at 50 years. She informed the Committee that decommissions and retrofit plans led to reduced emissions. It plans a reduction of NOx and SO2 levels within 2019-2045. A cost benefit analysis was done to support ESKOM’s current postponement application. The cost of full compliance with MES compared with ESKOM’s remission reduction plan involves higher water consumption increase, higher tariff increase, higher auxiliary power increase, higher CO2 emissions, and increases in coal consumption due to low NOx burner retrofits, increased waste production and sorbent consumption. ESKOM acknowledges the fact that it would still need to apply for further postponements on MES.
Ms Gabi Mkhatshwa Eskom Researcher gave the compliance status of ESKOM monitoring of ambient air quality. The status for SO2 levels showed compliance at all monitoring stations except at Komati and KwaZamokuhle and compliance at all stations for NOx. However there was non-compliance at all monitoring stations for Particulate Matter PM 10 and PM 2.5 except at Camden and Medupi. ESKOM has not experienced any exceedances above annual limit value for NO2 at the air quality monitoring stations in the Highveld for 2012-2017. Only Kriel power station recorded 10 exceedances above the hourly limit value between 202 and 2017. She informed the Committee that 88 exceedances are permitted within a year. Lourens’ studies and other studies have attributed elevated levels of NO2 to vehicular movement and domestic fuel burning emissions.
The Chairperson asked ESKOM if the brief was based on the levels factored into the National Emission levels for the Paris agreement.
Ms Herbst said she was of the opinion that there was a 50 year timeframe.
The Chairperson asked ESKOM to clarify if this was the original levels.
Ms Herbst said the levels were based on the original and part of the Integrated Resource Plan of 2018. It also includes plans for early decommissioning instead of late decommissioning.
The Chairperson said he wanted to be sure that it was not the plan submitted to the DEA. He noted that ESKOM did not respond to Green Peace claims.
Ms Herbst said the plan had been discussed with the DEA. ESKOM was of the opinion that the troposphere was not linked in any way to ground level which accounted for ambient air.
The Chairperson noted that ESKOM decided to give the Committee a summary. He said SASOL had indicated that it was not affected by the Green Peace report. He expressed surprise because SASOL operated in Secunda, Mpumalanga and Sasolburg which was the new Mpumalanga. He invited Mr Stefan Opperman, Vice President Technical Support Services, and SASOL to brief the Committee.
Mr Stefan Opperman said he was of the opinion that independent parties would give the technical aspects on Green Peace allegations.
The Chairperson asked if SASOL agreed with the report by Green Peace.
Briefing by SASOL
Mr Stefan Opperman said that SASOL operations affected air quality but its operations converts to chemicals that were not emitted into the atmosphere. He shared the progress made on particulate matter (PM) abatement at Secunda and Sasolburg boilers plants; he also shared the progress on NOx at Sasolburg boilers plants and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) abatement at the Secunda site. SASOL is still screening its alternative technology on SO2. He assured the Committee that projects completed to date align with its environmental roadmap commitments. SASOL has three types of technology to abate particulate matter (PM) emissions. They include installation of medium frequency transformers in Secunda in July 2018, installation of high frequency transformers in Secunda in June – July 2018, and installation of high frequency short pulse transformers in Secunda July – August 2018. The seasons affect PM concentrations and increased energy demand in colder month’s impact on ambient air quality standards. He said SASOLs’ multi-year offset programme addressed sources of non-industrial pollution in conjunction with its roadmaps and this was progressing well. He invited Mr Ivan Govender, Head Sustainability at SASOL to brief the Committee on its offset plans of SASOL
Mr Ivan Govender gave an overview of the offset plans of SASOL implemented to address sources of non-industrial pollution. SASOL had agreements with households to insulate RDP homes with a coal stove swap and this commenced in January 2018 in eMbalenhle and Lebohang. Also three additional ambient air quality monitoring stations were installed at eMbalenhle and Lebohang in 2017 which are now fully functional. Door-to-door campaigns to create air quality awareness and understanding at eMbalenhle and Lebohang is ongoing, also education and awareness campaigns on air quality is being undertaken at Govan Mbeki Municipality targeted primary schools. SASOL implements veld fire management to reduce particulate matter emissions, it has also initiated the non-recyclable waste and vehicle emission testing projects.
Mr Opperman said SASOL was committed to compliance with all applicable laws including air quality laws.
The Chairperson invited the Centre for Environmental Rights and Groundwork to brief the Committee.
Briefing by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER)
Ms Robin Hugo, Head of Pollution and Climate Change Program, the CER, said that climate change is a high risk presently and coupled with emissions the effects would negatively impact citizens through air pollution. She gave health reasons to show that the country did not need coal fired plants. She recalled that the Highveld Priority Area was declared in 2006 with Mpumalanga being home to 12 of ESKOM’s coal stations and SASOL’s Synfuels coal-to-liquids plant. Air quality governance failures lead to air pollution and this is even worse for children whose rights are trampled upon. ESKOM is aware that its coal plants are deadly yet both ESKOM and SASOL are saying that the benefits of having coal fired plants in the country outweigh the cost of compliance. She compared the existing Minimum Emission Standards (MES) in South Africa to that of other countries which showed that South Africa’s’ MES SO2 and PM was extremely lower compared with China, Germany and Europe. She noted that the DEA was proposing a review that would further weaken the MES for SO2 and stated that it was not legal to weaken MES according to Section 11A of the National Environmental Management Air Quality Act 2004 (Act No 39 of 2004). The CER has called on the Minister to withdraw the upward review of MES outside which the CER would be forced to go to the Courts. Applications for postponements should not be granted when a plant is not complying with the MES and the plant does not comply with the new provision for postponements. Despites Paragraph 4 12 (a), (b) and (c) of the NEM: Air Quality Act 2004 (Act No 39 of 2004), the DEA had granted ESKOM postponements. Eskom accepted its non-compliance as depicted by 3,181 exceedances of Applicable Air Emission Licence (AEL) limits during April 2016 - December 2017 that was reported in 13 Eskom coal-fired power stations. She gave examples of exceedances of the NOx limit at Matla, Camden, Hendrina, Grootvlei and Majuba; also PM limits were exceeded at Kriell, Grootvlei and Tutuka while SO2 was exceeded at Grootvlei. In addition to high frequencies of exceedances, many plants had high magnitudes of exceedances, significantly greater than AEL limits. The Committee would recall that the Centre for Environmental Rights conducted an investigation and the report was presented to the Committee as ‘Broken Promises’. More than 13 months later the DEA has failed to respond to the recommendations from the investigation report ‘Broken Promises’. The Committee would recall that the key recommendation was for the DEA to demonstrate that it was improving air quality in priority areas and provide steps for the State to meet Section 24 of the Constitution and Air Quality Act obligations. However with the failure of the DEA to respond to the constitutional rights of people, many citizens are affected in the Highveld Priority Area (HPA).
Briefing by Groundwork
Mr Thomas Mnguni, Community Campaigner, Groundwork said SASOL, ESKOM and the DEA were collaborating to undermine air quality governance in the country. The information on air quality would not have been exposed if Green Peace had not presented it. He expressed concerns that people could not receive real time data to monitor air quality. The Mid Term Review by the DEA and Groundwork revealed that air quality monitoring was not efficiently carried out in the HPA. He expressed concerns that even when ESKOM was not complying with the MES on pollutants the SO2 MES were upwardly reviewed. In order to enforce compliance on air quality all stakeholders need to be present and Groundwork have noticed that stakeholders are not available during meetings. Although it is legal for postponements to be granted on compliance with MES conditions, in this case the conditions are not met. If the DEA and the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) do not have the capacity to monitor air quality then both Departments should not claim capabilities to monitor offsets. He said ESKOM senior officials needed to go and live at Middleburg and Witbank to experience what citizens without health insurance experience as a result of air pollution. He expressed concerns that there was no reduction because the air quality management plan was inefficient. Also the DEA has continually said that its Minister would address air quality yet citizens have not noted improvements.
The Chairperson invited the DEA to brief the Committee on why it had postponed compliance with MES of the National Environmental Management Air Quality Act 2004 (Act No 39 of 2004).
Mr Senene said the purpose of the brief was to update the Committee on its progress in implementing the Committees February 2018 recommendations; the roadmaps to full compliance by industry; offsets programs and the progress; and the applications received for further postponements. He gave a synopsis of what had transpired on air quality in the past and what was presently happening and remarked that there were changes to the air quality regulations. He said the reality was that there was a significant drop in SO2 levels in the MES from 4000mg/m3 to 1000mg/m3 and this reduction would assist in making the air quality better than the era that SO2 levels emission was not controlled. However a further decrease from 1000mg/m3 to 500mg/m3 would affect the environment and resources.
The Chairperson asked Mr Senene to clarify his statement that the workshop on air quality was in February while the meeting with the DEA was in 2017.
Mr Senene said the instruction was received in 2017 but the meeting took place in January 2018.
The Chairperson asked Mr Senene to state when the upward review on MES SO2 levels was done.
Ms Masekoameng said the DEA could share the dates of its consultations with the Committee.
The Chairperson asked Ms Masekoameng to inform the Committee of the consultation dates.
Ms Masekoameng said the DEA started in 2017, she itemised the days and said the DEA would share the dates of its consultations with the Committee in written format.
The Chairperson noted that the upward review was as a result of feedback from the consultations but it did not go through a public consultation process. He said he asked because the upward review on MES SO2 levels did not have any basis. A panel of experts was supposed to assist the Minister. He observed that a submission was made to the Minister, the Minister recommended a needs based analysis but DEA decides to implement an upward review from 500mg/m3 to 1000mg/m3. He asked the DEA to explain.
Mr Senene said the DEA just shared a few of the aspects that led to its’ implementation of an upward review from 500mg/m3 to 1000mg/m3. The basis would be shared with the Committee in written format after the Ministers’ briefing.
The Chairperson noted that it looked very dodgy because the Committee asked for a panel to review the MES and the Minister asked for a needs based assessment and the brief did not show that any of these tasks had been done, instead the DEA did an upward review of MES SO2 levels from 500mg/m3 to 1000mg/m3.The fact that the Minister would give a brief does not mean that it should not be discussed. He said the meeting could proceed but further discussions would follow, but he was not sure the Committee could accept the upward review of MES SO2 levels from 500mg/m3 to 1000mg/m3. He noted that the DEA did not tell the Committee about its consultations and what had been advanced to result in an upward review. It was instituted by the Committee so the DEA should not give a solution that did not follow the right processes. The DEA should not proceed with the upward review because South Africa needs a solution on SO2 levels challenges.
Mr Vumile Senene said the DEA accepted the Committees proposal. He proceeded to give the compliance status with postponement conditions for decisions made before 1 April 2015.
The Chairperson noted that the DEA had shared its previous compliance postponements and conditions with the Committee earlier hence he asked him to give the ones after 1 April 2015.
Mr Senene began to go through the details of compliance postponements and conditions after 1 April 2015.
The Chairperson said DEA should go through the details in the next meeting and he mandated DEA to submit the report on the upward review of SO2 levels MES from 500mg/m3 to 1000mg/m3.
Mr Senene said he was of the opinion that it would be presented in phases.
The Chairperson said the DEA was invited by the Committee to address air quality and asked the DEA to continue.
Mr Senene gave the costs of the offset program implementation and the National Emission status of the country.
The Chairperson said the Committee understood that the report had been presented by the DEA in Kimberly but since none of the Members were present the Committee had asked for the information. The DEA could present this information to the Committee in its next meeting since there had been a misunderstanding. Also, ESKOM did not present its offset programs but SASOL did, the Committee would not blame ESKOM since it did not ask for this information specifically. He expressed concerns about the costs’ presented by ESKOM on its full compliance with MES. He asked ESKOM to clarify if it would not fully comply with MES because it not effective.
Ms Herbst said procurement took six years and another six years would be used to grant approval. Also ESKOM had always subscribed to the minimum use of water to retrofit its plants and the full compliance would require 20% more water consumption.
The Chairperson asked ESKOM to clarify if it was saying the full compliance could not be achieved.
Ms Herbst said full compliance on MES SO2 levels involved water and limestone and the country did not presently have such resources.
The Chairperson said Members understood that resources were scarce but he asked ESKOM to clarify what it meant to the MES of other pollutants.
Ms Herbst said ESKOM was trying to show that it could not comply with MES SO2 levels but it would be able to comply with NOx level MES at a certain time. The implications concern the challenges on all pollutants but the implications on SO2 levels MES is the highest.
The Chairperson invited Members to interrogate the report.
Ms Edwards asked ESKOM to state the cost for applying for a postponement for stations and the costs needed to apply technology to plants that did not presently comply with MES. She asked SASOL to state the number of households it had upgraded in its offset programs.
Mr Purdon expressed concerns that the countries MES would get weaker. He agreed with the Chairperson that the Committee needed a detailed report on the upward reviews of SO2 MES levels. He asked the DEA to state how many applications it had for postponements on MES. He asked ESKOM to confirm if they had further applications for postponements that had not being presented.
Ms Herbst gave the costs for the application of technology across different plants and the cost of applying for a postponement. She informed the Committee that ESKOM would be asking for additional postponements and it would be subjected to public comments on 26 November 2018.
The Chairperson noted that ESKOM had not yet submitted its postponement application.
Ms Herbst said ESKOM would be submitting by 31 march 2019.
Mr Makhubele asked the DEA to state the basis of the upward review of SO2 MES levels. He asked ESKOM to clarify if its offsets were done annually or once –off. He asked why the stakeholder meetings were not addressing the challenges on air quality. He asked SASOL to confirm if it had any intention to submit applications for further postponements.
Mr Opperman said SASOL would still make more applications for postponements to comply on MES.
Mr Mnguni said that the local Municipality does not have capacity to attend air quality meetings, they do not participate and they are not functional. Also there are no reports on consequent management.
Prof Garland said the country could not draw a panel of experts on air quality because it could affect the country.
Prof Annegarn asked the CER how it had arrived at the conclusion that the country had week MES. He also asked the CER to state which country used the WHO guidelines.
The Chairperson asked Greenpeace, the CER and Groundwork to respond.
Ms Hugo said Prof Annegarn talked about ambient quality in his brief not MES. The countries that used the WHO guidelines can be supplied later.
The Chairperson said the country that uses the WHO guidelines could be given outside the meeting. The DEA needs to justify some of it assumptions under the upward review in the next meeting. The questions that have not been answered should be answered and sent in written format to the Committee Secretary.
Mr Senene said the comparison must be on MES on air quality.
The Chairperson said that the discussions were on the MES on air quality and the brief by Green Peace was used to initiate the discussions. The Committee has indicated that it would be having colloquiums for such discussions. The debates were started because the Committee was concerned about the situation of air quality in Mpumalanga but it also organises oversights. The situation in Mpumalanga HPA is concerning and as Prof Annegarn has said the situation is not new but the Committee is of the opinion that the situation should not be glossed over but reviewed by the DEA. The Committee would review the DEAs’ reasons for the upward review of MES and application for postponement during its next meeting. Groundwork is questioning the way the DEA is managing offsets so this would be reviewed as well. The Committee had raised this concern in the past hence the DEA had to attend to it. The DEA should explain the upward review on SO2 levels and it should not continue with it because the Committee initiated the discussion. The DEA needs to justify the upward review on SO2 MES levels. The recommendations of the Committee needed to be followed and the acting DG must advise the Minister that what the Committee had earlier recommended was not implemented.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Green Peace Report on Air Pollution in Mpumalanga: DEA, Eskom & Sasol responses 3
- Green Peace Report on Air Pollution in Mpumalanga: DEA, Eskom & Sasol responses 1
- Green Peace Report on Air Pollution in Mpumalanga: DEA, Eskom & Sasol responses 4
- Green Peace Report on Air Pollution in Mpumalanga: DEA, Eskom & Sasol responses 2
- CER - Air Quality Governance Failures
- Memo Department of Environmental Affairs – Applications for Postponement to Comply With Minimum Emissions Standards by Industry
- Department of Environmental Affairs’ Response to Greenpeace Report on Air Pollution in Mpumalanga
- DEA - Postponement of Compliance with Minimum Emission Standards of NEM: AQA (ACT N0. 39 0F 2004)
- Department of Environmental Affair’s Response to the Greenpeace Report presentation
- Council for Scientific and Industrial Research: No2 pollution and its impacts in the Highveld