The Hunter Community Environment Centre has today backed the recommendation from the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the EPA calling for an evidence-based review of coal train pollution management in the Hunter.
The Inquiry has recommended that the EPA work with the Chief Scientist and Engineer to review the way air quality is monitored for coal trains in Upper and Lower Hunter, and to devise a monitoring network that will answer the remaining questions on the emissions profiles from coal trains and best practice management techniques.
“The recommendation for a more thoroughly scientific approach to coal dust pollution and for greater transparency from the EPA will go a long way to strengthening the confidence of the community that the EPA is acting on this issue,” said John Mackenzie, spokesperson for the Hunter Community Environment Centre.
“An evidence-based review would pave the way for a comprehensive solution to coal dust pollution problem that is technically feasible and delivers real health benefits for the communities who live along the rail line,” said Mr Mackenzie.
"However, we would be concerned if this was intepreted by the EPA to mean duplicating existing research or doing more monitoring. We have more than enough evidence of the problem - we need to be looking directly at the best path to zero emissions coal transport in the Valley."
The Hunter Community Environment Centre were also pleased with the impact the Inquiry had already had on the EPA's approach to coal dust management. In particular, the Inquiry had motivated the EPA to follow through with an compliance audit of coal facilities in NSW and a review of international best practice as part of an investigation into ways to reduce dust, pollution and particle emissions during coal transportation.
“For more than two years, we've been calling for a thorough investigation of coal handling in the Hunter, and we are pleased that this Parliamentary Inquiry provided the EPA with the impetus to follow through with this. Both the review and the compliance audit provide clear evidence of the need for tighter controls on coal train pollution," said John Mackenzie from the Hunter Community Environment Centre.
"For example, the EPA's compliance audit looked at 15 coal loading and unloading facilities, and found 26 breaches of air pollution controls. This is simply unacceptable. It shows that the problem of coal dust is being made worse by industry neglect and malpractice. We have full confidence that the Chief Scientist's review of this information will confirm that the Hunter coal industry's performance on air pollution is simply not up to scratch against the minimum standard, and a long way shy of best practice internationally,” said John Mackenzie.
"The Inquiry also motivated the EPA to commission a review on what is best practice nationally and internationally to control pollution from coal trains, focusing on measures relevant to the Hunter Valley rail corridor. Again, the findings were identical to the points we had raised as evidence before the Inquiry - that coal wagon loading and unloading, wind erosion of the exposed surface of coal wagons and the spillage of coal into the rail corridor all contribute to coal dust pollution."
“The review also documented that there are a number of readily available and easily implementable solutions for reducing coal pollution, including improving the management of coal moisture content, correcting the profiles of loaded coal wagons, proper maintenance and washing of wagons, regular and frequent cleaning of accumulated dust in the rail ballast and the use of chemical suppressants and hard covers on loaded wagons.”
“In terms of air quality outcomes, the real success of the Inquiry has been the confirmation by the EPA that the problem can be addressed by these types of simple and cost effective management techniques, including modernising loading facilities, covering loads and washing wagons. Thankfully, and finally, we are seeing the EPA take small steps in the right direction, even if they have to be shoved by this Inquiry from one side, and drag the coal industry along behind them on the other.”