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By Ilse de Lange


Court puts new coal-fired power station on ice

Earthlife maintained that Molewa's authorisation had been unlawful, irrational and unreasonable.

Environmental group Earthlife Africa has scored a victory in South Africa’s first climate-change related court case when the High Court in Pretoria set aside governmental authorisation granted for the building of a new coal-fired power station near Lephalale, in Limpopo.

Judge John Murphy ordered Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa to reconsider the environmental authorisation granted in March last year to the Thabametsi Power Project.

The minister was ordered to take into account climate change and paleontological impact assessment reports.

Earthlife maintained the minister’s authorisation had been unlawful, irrational and unreasonable in the absence of a proper climate change impact assessment. Judge Murphy said although there were various powers in the National Environmental Management Act to amend and suspend the authorisation, if the climate change report demonstrated that the power station would cause such irremediably harm that the authorisation should not have been given, none of the provisions could be lawfully relied on to revoke the authorisation.

“Accepting that the minister and other officials have no power to withdraw the environmental authorisation if the climate change impact assessment warrants that outcome, the minister’s belief that other remedial powers might achieve a similar result was mistaken … and she took her decision on this mistaken belief then her decisions as based on a material error in law.”

“I accept fully that the decision to grant the authorisation without proper prior consideration of the climate change impacts is prejudicial in that permission has been granted to build a coal-fired power station which will emit substantial green house gases in an ecologically vulnerable area for 40 years without properly researching the climate change impacts for the area and the country as a whole,” Judge Murphy said.

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