The withdrawal of the court action comes after the Department of Environmental Affairs granted Sasol several postponements in order to comply with the new regulations. This allows Sasol to continue to emit toxic pollutants that exceed the country’s air quality laws for another five years.
Sasol and Natref – a joint venture with Sasol Oil and Total SA – instituted legal action last year against Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa and the National Air Quality Officer to have certain minimum emissions standards under the National Environmental Management Air Quality Act set aside. Sasol’s plants are located in hot spots where there is serious air pollution.
Sasol spokesman Alex Anderson confirmed yesterday the company had applied for postponements regarding complying with the air quality laws, which came into effect this month, because of “short-term challenges relating to the compliance time frames”.
The postponements had been granted and incorporated into Sasol’s atmospheric emission licences.
However, Sasol said the postponements may not give it long enough to clean up its pollutants, “particularly where feasible solutions are not presently available to achieve compliance with the new plant standards”. Sasol was referring to the standards it would have to comply with by April 2020.
Yesterday the Legal Resources Centre, which had asked to be admitted as a friend of the court, disputed Sasol’s claim that complying with the air pollution standards was not feasible. “Sasol is purely playing for time to save its shareholders money,” Angela Andrews, of the centre, said yesterday.
Sasol argued in court papers that some of these emission standards were unlawful, as the minister had not followed the correct procedures under the 2007 National Framework. It also argued that installing some of the equipment to clean up emissions would require a long lead time, while installing others would not be “reasonable or feasible in the South African context”.
The Legal Resources Centre said had Sasol persisted with and been successful in its court challenge against the government, it would have “set back a massive environmental programme for improved air quality by the department that spans over a decade”. There had been wide consultations with industry and a range of other parties over many years before the new laws were promulgated. “Sasol was never in favour of the proposed limits and attempted to have them watered down both before and after they were first implemented,” the centre said.
However, Sasol said yesterday it was “committed to advancing ambient air quality management in a sustainable manner” and would continue to engage with the government to find solutions for its “remaining challenges”.
Centre for Environmental Rights attorney Tracey Davies said: “By displaying such extraordinary unwillingness to act as a responsible corporate citizen and do everything in its significant power to invest in improving South Africa’s appalling air quality, from which millions suffer and to which Sasol is a significant contributor, Sasol is simply shoring up liability for the future.”
Molewa welcomed Sasol’s decision to withdraw legal action, saying the department played a key role in ensuring South Africans had an environment not harmful to their health.
Melanie Gosling, Environment Writer