The Hunter community today welcomed the announcement of a Parliamentary Inquiry into the organisational culture and performance of the New South Wales Environmental Protection Agency, especially given the inquiry’s focus on the EPA’s repeated mishandling of coal dust monitoring in the region.
The inquiry was initiated by Shadow Environment Minister Luke Foley as a consequence of a suite of recent mismanaged toxic and pollutant events. These events include the contamination around Orica's Botany site, the cover-up relating to coal rail pollution studies in the Hunter, and the contamination of an aquifer with uranium by Santos’s coal seam gas operation.
“This inquiry is in the best interest of the people of New South Wales. We are hopeful that the inquiry will improve the EPA’s ability to be a strong and effective environmental regulator - one that can protect community health and act in the interest of a safe and healthy environment”, said Hunter Community Environment Centre spokesperson, Dr John Mackenzie.
“This inquiry is also vital for restoring community confidence in the EPA, given that its performance in recent years has fallen well shy of community expectations especially on coal dust pollution,” said Dr Mackenzie.
“For the communities of the Hunter, this inquiry is a small, but long overdue, victory. Hunter residents have been calling for improved regulation of particulate pollution, especially in relation to fugitive emissions from coal mining and transport. Multiple community, government and industry studies and monitoring programs have demonstrated that airborne pollution in Newcastle and the Hunter frequently breaches World Health Organisation standards.”
“Coal dust pollution from trains and stockpiles causes serious health problems and, for vulnerable people in our community, it makes existing problems worse.”
“Residents, environmentalists and the coal industry all agree on this. It is only the NSW EPA that has been standing in the way of air pollution regulation that would improve community health.”
“The Hunter Community Environment Centre is hopeful that this inquiry will create a shared agreement between all the players to address our air quality crisis, and to work together establish a responsible approach to air pollution now.”
“This is a problem which is set to worsen if the proposed fourth coal terminal goes ahead. If we can’t manage air pollution responsibly now, how can we possibly allow this proposal to go ahead knowing it will make the existing problem worse.”