IN December, 2015 Federal and state environment ministers signed the National Clean Air Agreement with air quality standards for six key pollutants, andnew compliance standards for fine particle PM2.5 pollution.
The agreement set in train a two-year process requiring each state to formalise clean air plans, with another national meetingin December.
In November NSWwas shown how these actions by governments will impact communities. The NSW Environment Protection Authority released two reports –one on proposed changes to its load-based licensing scheme for polluting industries, and the second a NSW clean air plan.
The reports revealed that modelling for the EPA showed the new PM2.5 standard was “unlikely to be attained in Singleton and Muswellbrook into the future as coal production in the Hunter Valley is expected to continue to increase”.
It also showed all man-made particulate emissions, including from wood-burning domestic heaters, needed to be reduced by 50 per cent to meet the new standard.
Until the national agreement the PM2.5 standard was a reporting one, and not a compliance standard. The new agreement puts teeth into a communityexpectation that people have a right to breathe air that is not a risk to their health.
As a mid-term review of the national agreement noted in November:“The new national standards for PM2.5 are more health protective than World Health Organisation guidelines, and are the most health protective package of particle standards and long-term targets in the world.”
Targets are one thing. Achieving the standards is the hard part, and in the case of the Upper Hunter it is going to mean pain for some. The EPA is considering charging “relatively higher pollutant fees for PM2.5”in areas like Muswellbrook and Singleton where the new air quality standards may not be met, and including the coal industry in the load-based licensing scheme for the first time since it was established in 1999.
The NSW Minerals Council has already flagged its strong opposition.
Doctors for the Environment has argued it isessential the government adopts a “polluter pays” approach, with coal mines and coal-fired power stations paying, rather than the community in terms of serious health impacts. The Hunter region cannot afford to sit out this debate.