The Kritic

Liddell Power Station

Liddell Power StationSource: AAP


21 May 2018

Liddell licenced to emit toxic air pollution 14 times higher than international best practice

AGL’s Liddell power station has been granted an exemption from NSW air pollution regulations and emits toxic oxides of nitrogen (NOx) at up to 14 times the concentration allowable in the United States, documents obtained under Freedom of Information reveal.

The extraordinary exemption permits the 46-year-old coal-fired power station in the Hunter Valley to emit toxic NOx at almost twice the official concentration limit allowed for NSW power stations of Liddell’s age.

“This is one more compelling reason why Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull should stop trying to find ways to keep this ageing and inefficient power station open,” said Dr James Whelan, researcher with Environmental Justice Australia.

The report obtained under FoI shows AGL Macquarie applied for and was granted an exemption from the NSW Clean Air regulation, allowing Liddell to emit NOx at a concentration of 1400 micrograms per cubic metre (mg/m3).

Power stations of Liddell’s age would normally be subject to the Group 5 NOx limit of 800 mg/m3.

Liddell NOx Comparison

“This is shocking revelation confirms the NSW Government’s laissez faire approach to air pollution control,” Dr Whelan said.

“Liddell is licenced to emit toxic pollution at levels that should see it subject to serious enforcement actions.”

The report, prepared by Aurecon for AGL Macquarie, describes a range of air pollution control measures that would reduce NOx emissions by up to 85%. The report was required by the NSW Environment Protection Agency as a condition of AGL’s Environment Protection Licence.

The Aurecon report identifies Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) as the most effective NOx emission control technology and the dominant method in use internationally. Power plants equipped with SCR, overfire air and low NOx burners reduce NOx emissions to just 50-100mg/m3. Japan plans to require new power stations to fit these three control measures.

“Toxic NOx emissions from Liddell could be reduced by more than 90%, significantly improving community health in the Hunter Valley, but generators appear unwilling to invest in these emission controls, especially for older power plants.”

Exposure to oxides of nitrogen (NOx) irritates eyes, nose, throat and lungs, and leads to coughing, shortness of breath, tiredness and nausea. Even low levels of exposure are linked to asthma, reduced lung function and allergies. Coal-fired power stations produce 49% of Australia’s NOx emissions.


  • AGL Macquarie was required by the NSW EPA to submit by July 2017 a report on ‘International best practice for control of NOx emissions from coal fired combustion’. The EPA request for this Pollution Reduction Program (PRP) is a standard procedure for holders of Environmental Protection Licences.
  • EJA has an interest in the PRP because our Toxic and Terminal report identified readily available pollution control technologies (selective catalytic reduction or ‘wet scrubbers’) that would reduce NOx emissions by as much as 90%. (See for e.g. this USEPA report for details.) This equipment has been obligatory for coal-fired power stations in the US for almost 20 years but is not yet required in NSW. The EPA’s licensing philosophy is officially that it requires plants to operate pollution controls that were ‘reasonably available technology’ when the plants were new (23–38 years ago).
  • Although Liddell is scheduled to close in 2022, AGL is experiencing political pressure (most recently from Premier Berejiklian and PM Turnbull) to keep it open beyond that date.
  • NOx concentrations in the Hunter Valley exceed the national standard each year, with major adverse health impacts that have not been assessed by the NSW Government and are clearly not being controlled.
  • Any measures used by Liddell could (and should) be implemented at Bayswater, Eraring, Vales Point and Mt Piper.
  • The (draft) air pollution strategy for NSW indicated that NOx and SO2 emission controls would be investigated. That strategy has bogged down within the EPA, with no sign of life since May 2017.
  • The NOx control report was prepared for AGL by Aurecon (submitted to the EPA in June 2017).
  • EJA requested this report from the NSW EPA late 2017. When that request was unsuccessful, EJA lodged a GIPA (FoI) request in December.
  • In January 2018, the EPA granted partial access to our request, with significant exemptions that included financial figures relating to the purchase of NOx control equipment, operating and capital costs. This redacted information is crucial to any independent assessment of AGL’s efforts to control NOx emissions.
  • A third party – presumably AGL – opposed our request. The third party argued that the report contains ‘commercially sensitive information’, including NOx emissions during combustion, control measures and systems and options for NOx control.
  • The EPA ruled that release of the report was in the public interest.

See also: EJA report Toxic and Terminal on problems with power stations and their pollution licences

Environmental Justice Australia

Media contact: Josh Meadows, EJA media & communications, 0439 342 992

Woman and ChocolateSource: Petr Kratochvil

Food fraud is a major issue, particularly in organic products.

Ten percent of products in the food and drink category are “adulterated or mislabeled,” according to a new study by Ecovia Intelligence, an ethical product research firm. Seafood, parmesan cheese, Kobe beef, herbal tea – all of these products were investigated and outed as oft-disguised and mis-marketed in Larry Olmstead’s 2016 food fraud expose, “Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do About It.”

But what about labeled grocery products we’re conditioned to trust? Especially products that can charge a high premium for being “ethical” or “sustainable”? Chocolate, particularly, comes to mind. The bean-to-bar phenomenon can command upwards of $10 for a single chocolate bar, but are we really getting what we pay for? According to an April 2016 study on millennial purchasing habits, the artisanal-loving generation often fails to ask questions about the ethics of their chocolate sourcing, so we asked the questions ourselves.

First, what, other than an arbitrary label, qualifies chocolate as sustainable?

“I see the sustainability discussion from two angles, the socioeconomic—fair prices and labour practices—and the environmental—sound agricultural practices, biodiversity, etc.,” says Michael Laiskonis, creative director of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.

“Most cocoa farms throughout the world are small family holdings of just a few acres and their output, high costs and intensive labor required often mean cocoa farmers straddle established poverty lines,” he explains. “The complex collection and distribution system as cocoa beans travel from origin to factory to consumer compounds the issue of fair farmer prices, who are often left with the smallest portion of a chocolate bar’s retail price.”

Laiskonis says he’s personally unaware of any intentional food fraud or mislabelling in the chocolate industry, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

“There are few, if any industry standards (government or self-imposed) when it comes to labelling and understanding the process and provenance of a bar,” Laiskonis explains, noting that a few label cues, like an origin or cocoa variety statement, grower information and insight into the manufacturing process can help guide consumers toward sustainable choices.

While third-party certifications like “Direct Trade,” “Fair Trade,” “Rainforest Alliance” and “organic” may be helpful, they’re also cost-prohibitive for small farmers, as well as ineffective, thanks to bureaucracy in several cocoa-growing parts of the world. Pricing can also be an effective way to sort through chocolate bars, knowing that some chocolatiers will inflate their prices because of the popularity of the fine chocolate market, but a cheap chocolate bar probably reflects cheaply sourced beans or low-quality chocolate.

The best way to feel confident that your chocolate is ethical and sustainable is to know your maker.

“I often advise that the more transparent, detailed and credible the story offered by the chocolate-maker, the better chance that the chocolate is of higher quality, produced with greater care, and ultimately, with a greater sense of ethical responsibility,” Laiskonis says.

In the case of Greg D’Alesandre, the chocolate sourcer and owner of bean-to-bar chocolatier Dandelion Chocolate, an annual public sourcing report (which includes where the beans come from, how much Dandelion pays and how the operation works) helps him connect to consumers on a traceable human level.

D’Alesandre spends over 20 weeks of the year travelling to visit producers in 25 different cocoa-growing countries in order to find the best possible cocoa for his business, so he can feel comfortable with the farms he’s buying from.

“Most people in the world are trying to do a great job at the thing that they’re doing,” D’Alesandre told AlterNet, on a rare week he was actually working from his headquarters in San Francisco. He gives producers the benefit of the doubt, building trust with them in order to “be as transparent as humanly possible.”

Knowing producers personally, and having point people around the world, allows him to communicate openly with his clients and create relationships. But, he admits, “Trust is a tricky thing,” adding that “some people look to certifications [for buying chocolate], but we have a personal relationship with the people that we work with. With a certification, people go to audit what’s going on. But it’s easy to lie to an auditor; it may be harder to lie to me. An auditor is checking on you; I am buying the beans—lying to me can put our business relationship at risk.” And with all the elements he inspects, he says, “lying would become laughably complex.”

In one instance, D’Alesandre was relieved that a farm in the Dominican Republic informed him that a fermentory mixed its beans with another farm’s beans, making the cocoa to be used in the Dandelion bar a combination of blended beans rather than “single reserve.” D’Alesandre still purchased the beans, labelled the chocolate bars accordingly, and continued his relationship with the farm.

Because he only visits most of his producers one week out of the year or less, D’Alesandre knows that the other 51 weeks of the year could potentially look very different at the site, but still attributes on-the-ground research to knowing the true origin of a chocolate bar (he said some large companies, like Valrhona, excel at this).

“It’s much more about me understanding the people who we’re working with, to make sure that we have aligned values,” D’Alesandre said. “I rarely run into people who have any ill intent. They are sustenance and crop farmers trying to produce good cacao—the land is their livelihood.”

Certifications can be prohibitively expensive for farmers, so D’Alesandre will also look to see how well they’re treating the environment and using their land, avoiding burning crops and using chemical pesticides and fertilisers. Most likely, the farmers can’t afford chemicals, nor would they want to use them, as chemicals don’t help cocoa grow any faster. D’Alesandre also evaluates how money is distributed among workers, especially based on the cost of labour in each region.

To determine pricing for his chocolate, he looks at what “people need to survive” in a given area—not the standard rate companies are willing to pay for cocoa—in order to keep business ethical and sustainable. “That’s the biggest reason we have the sourcing program we have; [we don’t use] what the world market says is ‘fair.'”

To know if your chocolate is ethically, humanely and sustainably sourced, the best and perhaps only verifiable way is to see the production with your own eyes. With social media, that has become more doable, but the next best thing is speaking with your chocolatier or producer of bean-to-bar chocolate. D’Alesandre can tell detailed stories about the locations he’s visited, and he’s not going to sugarcoat the situations in cocoa farms across the planet.

While he’s never witnessed slave labour or forcible child labour on his site visits, he says it’s common to see children working with their families on their family farms. “In some countries, there are no schools; the kids are working with their families on the farm and they don’t perceive it as ‘labour,'” explains D’Alesandre. “There’s no other option for what to do with their child, but they want them to have an education and a better life.” Supporting ethical, sustainable small business can hopefully boost a local economy and lead to educational opportunities further down the line.

More than anything, knowing the reality of the everyday lives of the people growing and selling the cocoa will verify what a $10 bar of chocolate truly is. “[Some] people travel for an exotic vacation, rather than seeing what’s actually on the ground,” says D’Alesandre. “It’s just a nice story to tell, until you talk to the people who are actually involved.”

Reposted with permission from AlterNet.
By Kylie Williams, Charles Sturt University
Read the original article.