Environmental bodies in court bid to ensure clean air for Highveld
Government must provide clean air for its people.
This is the gist of the argument from environmental justice group groundWork and a Mpumalanga community organisation which launched a court application demanding that government clean up the air in the Mpumalanga Highveld.
GroundWork and the Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action claim that government has violated the constitutional right to a healthy environment for the people living and working in the Highveld Priority Area (HPA) by failing to improve deadly levels of air pollution.
The organisations have asked the court to declare that the minister of environmental affairs has a legal duty to prescribe regulations to implement and enforce the Highveld Priority Area Air Quality Management Plan.
They have also asked the court to declare that the minister's refusal to prescribe the regulations to give effect to the Highveld plan was unconstitutional, unlawful and invalid.
GroundWork director Sven Peek, in an application filed with the Pretoria High Court on Friday, said the reality was that people living in this area were breathing ambient air that was harmful to their health and wellbeing.
He said in November 2007, the minister of environmental affairs had declared a 31,000 square kilometre area cutting across Gauteng and Mpumalanga to be a "priority area" in terms of the Air Quality Act.
Peek said despite the declaration of the HPA, it took more than four years before an Air Quality Management Plan for the Highveld area – which aims to ensure that ambient air quality for the area complies with national ambient air quality standards - was published.
He said more than 11-and-a-half years since the declaration of the Highveld Priority Area, little had been made in achieving these goals.
"Consequently, air pollution in the Highveld Priority Area still far exceeds the National Standards."
Peek said toxic air pollutants continued to kill at least hundreds of people a year in the Highveld, destroying their health and wellbeing.
Peek said the lack of progress was due in part to the absence of any regulations to give legal effect to the Air Quality Management Plan.
The regulations include prescribing appropriate penalties for breaching the plan and establishing appropriate funding arrangements to support the implementation of the plan.
"However, the minister has failed to establish regulations, more than seven years after the Highveld plan was created. As a result, the plan has remained a non-binding guideline without any means to enforce compliance with its goals." Peek said.