Minister Edna Molewa welcomes Sasol decision to withdraw litigation against the Government
28 April 2015
The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa, welcomes the decision by Sasol to withdraw legal action against herself and the National Air Quality Officer in the High Court of South Africa.
Sasol had approached the court to review and set aside pollution emission standards which are legislated in terms of the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act (39) of 2004.
The Department plays a key role in ensuring that the Constitutional right of South Africans to an environment that is not harmful to health and well-being is always taken into consideration, while ensuring that socio-economic growth is not hampered. One of the objectives of the Air Quality Act is to ensure ecologically sustainable development while promoting justifiable economic and social development.
Sasol had applied for postponements of timeframes for compliance with the Minimum Emission Standards in terms of section 21 of the National Environmental Management Air Quality Act 39 of 2004, which can only be granted for a period not exceeding five years. The Department had received 37 applications for postponements from other industries as well, including Engen, Shell, Eskom and Anglo American Platinum.
The allowance for postponement applications in the regulations provides transitional arrangements for industries that were in existence in 2010, when the regulations were first promulgated, to take the necessary action and make the required investments towards compliance with the minimum emission standards. Decisions on postponement applications were communicated on 24 February 2015.
“No decision to grant a postponement is reached lightly, but reached upon careful consideration of all variables: we remain mindful of the need to balance environmental protection with economic development,” says Minister Molewa.
Since 1994 South has put in place progressive environmental legislation which advances the promotion and integration of the three pillars of sustainable development, namely, economic, social and environmental dimensions.
In the past 21 years, the Government has facilitated a dramatic and sustained process of forming environmental guiding principles, institution-building and restructuring, legislation and policy development that recognises the intricate linkages between socio-economic developments and environmental stewardship.
The environmental sector has become a significant contributor to economic development, job creation and poverty alleviation.
The Department is committed to the principle of sustainable development that recognises the interdependency between economic growth, social equity and environmental integrity.
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On 17 April 2015 Sasol gave notice in the High Court of South Africa, Gauteng Division, Pretoria, that it had withdrawn the court application against the Minister of Environmental Affairs and the National Air Quality Officer. Sasol has tendered to pay the Department’s legal costs occasioned by its opposition to the application.
The litigation was instituted in 2014 in an attempt to set aside Minimum Emission Standards (MES) applicable to Sasol’s industrial activities. The Department opposed the application.
The withdrawal comes two months after Sasol Synfuels, Natref and Sasol Infrachem were granted timeframe compliance postponements for several of their plants.
The Minimum Emission Standards, first published in 2010, are legislated in terms of the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act, 2004 (Act No. 39 of 2004) (NEM:AQA).
Existing plants are required in terms of the MES to comply by 1 April 2015 with Existing Plant Standards, and by 1 April 2020 with stricter new plant standards.
Sasol had initially applied to be exempted from the MES. The request was refused, as NEM:AQA does not allow for such exemptions.
However, NEM:AQA allows for any listed activity or industry to submit an application for the postponement of the compliance timeframes to the National Air Quality Officer at the National Department of Environmental Affairs.
Such postponement of the compliance timeframes may be granted for a period not exceeding 5 years, per postponement.
These postponements provide an opportunity for industry to take the necessary action and retrofit their plants to enable them to comply with the standards in the near future.
An an application for postponement must include:
- An air pollution impact assessment compiled in accordance with the regulations prescribing the format of an Atmospheric Impact Report (as contemplated in section 30 of NEM:AQA, by a person registered as a professional engineer or as a professional natural scientist in the appropriate category;
- A detailed justification and reasons for the application; and
- A concluded public participation process undertaken as specified in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations promulgated under the auspices of the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (Act No. 107 of 1998).