Landmark Victoria coal pollution case begins

Victoria's EPA is accused of failing to impose proper pollution caps on the Yallourn power plant.

Victoria's EPA is accused of failing to impose proper pollution caps on the Yallourn power plant. Photo: AAP

Victoria’s environmental regulator has been accused of allowing three coal-fired power stations to contaminate the air with millions of tonnes of pollution.

In a landmark Supreme Court case, lawyers for conservation group Environment Victoria on Tuesday argued the Environmental Protection Authority failed to consider state climate law in reviewing licences for three coal-fired power stations.

The matter is the first to test Victoria’s Climate Change Act, introduced in 2017, and to challenge the regulation of air pollution from coal-fired power stations.

It’s alleged the EPA ignored the act by failing to impose limits or constraints on the owners of the Yallourn, Loy Yang A and Loy Yang B power stations when amending their licences following a March 2021 review.

Lawyers for AGL Energy, Alinta Energy and EnergyAustralia, owners of the three power stations, also appeared in court as respondents.

Environment Victoria barrister Ron Merkel KC said the EPA had failed to protect the community by allowing the power stations to dump tonnes of pollution into the air.

“The three power stations are responsible for something like 33 per cent of the emissions in Victoria, so they obviously occupy a very important role in the climate change discussion,” he told the court in Melbourne.

“The EPA would not be discharging its duty to consider climate change if it reviews the licences of Victoria’s three biggest climate polluters and does not impose any limits or constraints on that pollution.”

He said present licence limits enforced by the EPA were much less strict than limits set for power stations in the United States, China and Europe.

“For example, Loy Yang A’s particle limit is at a staggering eight times higher than what is allowed in China,” he said.

Mr Merkel said the judicial review was also an opportunity to discuss the need for stronger limits on toxic air pollution.

“These limits have weakened the international best practice, exposing communities around the power stations to far more toxic pollution than they need to be, which contributes to a range of health problems,” he said.

The trial continues before Justice James Gorton.


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