A NSW Upper House committee has started an inquiry into the costs of remediating NSW coal ash repositories such as the Eraring and Vales Point power station ash dams.
The management of ash dams in the Hunter has been a hot topic following several reported incidents in the last 12 months.
In March, the Myuna Bay Sport and Recreation Centre was shut down due to concerns about Eraring power station's nearby ash dam collapsing, and a government agency report warned of the risks of consuming some species from Lake Macquarie due to ash dam pollution.
And last October, a clean-up notice was issued to Delta Electriticy's ash dam.
The NSW Upper House inquiry will consider:
- prospective and/or current quantum of government liability for remediating contamination at a number of sites, including Mount Piper, Bayswater, Liddell, Vales Point, and Eraring power stations;
- economic and employment opportunities associated with coal ash re-use, site remediation and repurposing of land,
- adequacy and effectiveness of the current regulatory regime for ensuring best practice remediation of coal ash repositories, and
- risks and liabilities associated with inadequate remediation including community and environmental health impacts.
The chair of the committee, Daniel Mookhey MLC, said the inquiry would help inform the level of government liability for remediating contamination at various power stations across the state, as well as the expected expenditure to perform such work.
"We need to ensure best practice models for remediation for coal ash repositories are in place and being followed, in an effort to mitigate risks and liabilities for communities and the environment," Mr Mookhey said.
In April, a two-year Senate inquiry into the responsibilities of the federal government in managing the rehabilitation of mines failed to produce an agreed set of recommendations, including whether the Commonwealth should set guidelines for the rehabilitation of ash dams.
Environmental Justice Australia lawyer Bronya Lipski said communities closest to coal-fired power stations bore the greatest health and environmental burdens.
"Some of the ash dumps in Australia are very close to communities, including residential areas, schools and recreation centres. Most are extremely close to waterways," Ms Lipski said.
"Coal ash dumps are a ticking time bomb. All Australian governments need to act now, not wait for a disaster.
"Coal ash contains toxic heavy metals - including mercury, lead, arsenic, selenium and chromium - that have been linked to asthma, heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, nervous system damage and stroke."
The Environment Protection Authority said all NSW coal-fired power stations were subject to stringent legally enforceable conditions, outlined in their environment protection licences, as well as requirements under environmental legislation, to protect the community and environment.
"The licences for the Eraring and Vales Point power stations include comprehensive and regular monitoring of ash dam water quality for a range of pollutants - including selenium and cadmium," an EPA spokesperson said.
Submissions to the NSW Upper House inquiry are now open and can be lodged via the committee's website: parliament.nsw.gov.au/publicworkscommittee.
The committee is due to report by July 1 next year.