Various levels of government, and agencies within the same level of government, manage improvements in air quality.
For example, emission standards for vehicles and small engines are a national responsibility, while dust control during residential development is the responsibility of local councils, and emissions from a major industry are regulated by the EPA.
Planning authorities are responsible for air quality when assessing new developments, while health and fire authorities are involved in protecting public health from various sources of air pollution, such as smoke and toxic fumes.
There are ‘edges’ to agency responsibilities, and a broad, whole-of-government and societal approach is necessary to ensure issues are identified and managed.
The SA Government has comprehensive programs in place to regulate, monitor and reduce emissions to the atmosphere and to ensure all development takes air quality into account. There are also well-developed mechanisms to coordinate areas of shared interest between multiple agencies involved in protecting air quality. Key SA Government policies are:
Environment Protection Act 1993
The Environment Protection Act 1993 (EP Act) is the legislative foundation for regulating SA’s air quality. Through the EP Act, all reasonable and practicable steps must be taken to prevent environmental harm. The EP Act has enabled development of specific environmental protection policies, such as the Environment Protection (Air Quality) Policy 2016. This provides the basis for imposing conditions on business and industries to reduce emissions through licensing and on new developments to minimise their impacts on air quality.
Specific actions to improve air quality under the Environment Protection Act include:
- improve online information for communities about air quality and provide targeted campaigns, for example, more effective operation of wood heaters
- ensure safe levels for a wide range of industrial emissions through initiating ground-level concentration criteria, odour criteria and emission limits
- develop guidelines on ambient air quality assessment and methods and standards for monitoring emissions, including for stack testing, quality requirements and reporting
- provide environment improvement programs as part of licensing conditions for industries with significant emissions
- use the best available technology and practice when managing emissions
- monitor and model air quality through a network of monitoring stations
- monitor and model odours
- provide licence conditions focused on risk management and outcomes
- ensure controls on dust management from transportation or material-handling activities
- an air quality health warning system that includes the EPA, Chief Medical Officer, Emergency Services and local government
- provide emergency response to emission incidents in support of emergency services.
Environment Protection (Air Quality) Policy 2016
The Air Quality Policy came into effect on 23 July 2016. It simplifies regulation of air quality by consolidating several guidelines and policies. This policy takes into account new research on air quality impacts, and provides clear criteria for air quality management and improves certainty for industry and the community.
- a 'whole-of-airshed' approach to managing air quality to protect community health or other environmental values
- regulated sale and installation of wood heaters and sale of firewood
- streamlined council management of burning in the open through consistent and coherent regulation across SA
- maintaining of burn-off for bushfire prevention
- greater consideration of risk to health and the environment when setting industry stack emission limits
- guidance to assist with developing submissions to the EPA for proposed developments, changes to existing activities or meeting requirements under the EP Act involving
- evaluation distances for effective air quality and noise management
- ambient air quality assessment
- emission testing methodology for air pollution.
A schedule of ground-level concentration (GLC) criteria, for some 130 chemical and physical agents, is an important inclusion in the new policy. The EPA is required to take these into account when assessing impacts of proposals and setting licence and approval conditions.
The GLC criteria incorporate the numerical values and averaging periods of the national standards for the six pollutants defined in the AAQ NEPM. However, it does not include protocols for monitoring and reporting.
These criteria recognise that these standards have a firm basis in health evidence, but provide the EPA with the flexibility to develop licence or development conditions that reflect environmental risks of emissions from operations on people living or working nearby.
This means requirements for management actions or modelling can be designed on a case-by-case basis. For example, if impacts were likely to be low, such requirements would not typically be as stringent as those needed where there are clearly adverse off-site impacts.
Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016
The Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016 ensures policies are provided for overarching strategic direction for planning in SA. This Act incorporates a range of targets and policies for improving air quality for people living, working or playing in the city.
To support this, the SA Government released Transit-oriented Developments Through a Health Lens in September 2011, which provides guidance on incorporating healthy design into developments, including designing for good air quality.
The SA Government has also released guidelines for reducing noise and air impacts from roads, rail and mixed land use. The SA Planning Policy Library promotes the use of more consistent and better development policies across local councils. It allows the creation of overlays for transport corridors in development plans. As part of this, planning authorities must consider air quality issues from major road and rail traffic when assessing development proposals.
South Australian Public Health Act 2011
The South Australian Public Health Act 2011 protects the health of those living in SA and reduces the incidence of preventable illness such as that caused by air pollution. This Act ensures a State Public Health Plan is developed to assess the state of public health in SA. The plan is designed to identify existing and potential public health risks and develop strategies for addressing and eliminating or reducing those risks. The plan also identifies opportunities and outlines strategies for promoting public health in SA.
The State Public Health Plan identifies clean air as an essential determinant of good health. The plan quotes a 2003 study that estimated that there were approximately 3,000 deaths in Australia in 2003 due to urban air pollution—nearly twice the national road toll in the same year. The plan predicts respiratory diseases and allergies to increase as a result of the likely rise in air pollution from dust and bushfire smoke under our changing climate. The health benefits of green infrastructure for improving air quality are also identified in this plan.
SA Health has a key role to play in providing advice to the community about the risks of lead in air, including through the Port Pirie Environmental Health Centre and the Port Pirie Lead Implementation Program.
Local Government Act 1999
Local councils in SA have many functions under the Local Government Act 1999, a number of which are related to the environment, for example:
- manage, develop, protect, restore, enhance and conserve the environment in an ecologically sustainable manner
- improve the environment’s features and attractiveness.
Local councils are often at the forefront when air quality issues arise. This is especially true when a nuisance is caused. Adelaide is a large and diverse area, comprising:
- older, established parts
- younger suburbs growing around new commercial hubs
- industrial areas with their own challenges in terms of conflict with adjoining land uses
- areas with unique blends of activities.
While some air quality issues are common to all urban areas, one size does not necessarily fit all in relation to air quality management. Many councils have been highly active in developing their own environmental strategies to address issues, which range from adaptation to climate change to increasing choices for residents’ local transport. Many of these strategies have the potential to improve air quality.
Of Adelaide’s carbon emissions, 35% comes from transport. Of this, 91% is from private vehicles with passenger cars accounting for 94% of all vehicles using City of Adelaide streets. Efforts to achieve reductions in transport emissions include:
- provide safe, convenient and comfortable streets incorporating more trees and bike lanes
- provide community engagement programs that encourage people to walk and cycle
- encourage uptake of low and zero emission vehicles
- expand the tram network
- complete electrification of the rail network.
The health benefits of large reductions in transport emissions are reason in themselves to vigorously pursue this goal. This requires incentives that encourage and support changes in travel behaviour, such as infrastructure that encourages cycling and walking, including separated bike lanes and crossings that prioritise pedestrians. It also requires measures that make it more safe and accessible to cycle and walk. The anticipated reduction in vehicle emissions, in part through transition to electric vehicles, is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as bring about major improvements in air quality, especially in urban areas.
The International Energy Agency reports that new registrations of electric cars hit a new record in 2016, with over 750,000 sales worldwide. The global electric car stock surpassed 3 million vehicles in 2017, after passing the 2 million mark in 2016, and 1 million in 2015. Australia accounted for 2,284 of global sales in 2017, which is an increase from its previous highest sales record in 2015 of 1,771 vehicles (Figure 30). The number of charging stations in Australia has also substantially increased, with one charging station for every six electric vehicles. In 2017, Australians purchased 1,076 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and 1,208 battery electric vehicles. These now make up 0.2% of the Australian market.
Figure 29: Electric vehicle sales in Australia. Source: ClimateWorks Australia
South Australians have acquired 957 electric vehicles since 2011, and SA has the highest proportion of electric vehicles sold in Australia (Figure 30).
Figure 30: Electric vehicle sales in South Australia
The City of Adelaide, in partnership with the SA Government and the private sector, promotes the leading trend in SA with its network of electric vehicle charging stations and rebates for the cost of electric vehicle charging infrastructure to property owners and tenants.
ClimateWorks Australia predicts that Australian electric vehicle uptake is likely to increase substantially as their prices become more competitive and because of the appeal of the technology. Australia’s commitment to meeting the emissions reduction targets of the Paris Agreement will also encourage faster rates of electric vehicle uptake, particulary if supported by recharge infrastructure powered by renewable electricity.
The CSIRO, in the Australian National Outlook Report 2015, projects that, by 2050, electric vehicles could account for between a tenth and one-third of road passenger transport, depending on abatement incentives and uptake rates. The report acknowledges that these projections are highly uncertain, as vehicle choices may also be influenced by shifts in attitudes and technology breakthroughs, such as new vehicle sharing models and a potential shift to driverless cars. The report notes that this transition could reverse our mounting transport fuel imports, as well as reducing costs, improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Local Nuisance and Litter Control Act 2016
The Local Nuisance and Litter Control Act 2016 is expected to help communities resolve local environmental complaints about activities that cause nuisance, such as noise, smoke and dust more efficiently through their local council. This new Act gives councils increased powers to deal with such complaints and create better tools to enforce compliance. The EPA is working with local government to assist them to manage local nuisances consistently across council areas.
Codes of practice for fire management
A number of agencies undertake periodic burning of biomass as part of their operations. The SA Country Fire Services Vegetation Pile Burning Code of Practice provides guidance on reducing the impacts from smoke, including by reducing fuel moisture, taking account of wind direction, and displaying signage.
Port Augusta power stations and Leigh Creek mine closure
The closure of the Port Augusta power stations and associated Leigh Creek mine during 2015–16 gave rise to several environmental issues. A multi-agency workgroup was established to manage the impacts and complex requirements of the closure, demolition, and remediation of the power station. This included complying with requirements of the EPA for a closure plan that address environmental issues, and assessment of site remediation measures.
In January 2017, a significant dust event occurred at the former power station’s ash dam, resulting in heightened community interest in health impacts and the EPA’s regulation of the site. The ash dam is the result of the burning of coal by the power station over several decades.
Dust from the ash dam historically supressed using a seawater sluicing system to maintain a salt crush. Following the closure of the power station, this system was no longer available. Other measures were trialled, including aerial dust suppression; while partly effective, this method did not stand up to large rainfall events, especially when these were followed by strong winds. A more permanent solution, involving capping the area with soil and replanting with native vegetation, then commenced. Until vegetation is established, some elevated dust from the site will occur.
In addition to using the data from its air monitoring stations in the region, the EPA worked with SA Health to better understand the nature of any risk to human health as a result of the dust events, set up additional air sampling devices, established a 24-hour community information service, and regularly met with the local community. The Spencer Gulf area experiences unpredictable weather conditions over summer, including high winds which stir up local and regional dust. The power stations site was only one of a number of areas contributing to regional dust, as can be seen from air quality data in neighbouring centres.
The EPA continue to keep a close watch on the operator’s remediation program and continues to engage with the community. Lessons learned from the difficulties encountered during the closure of the power stations include the importance of progressive rehabilitation ahead of closure, and the value of regulatory instruments such as financial assurances to ensure adequate provision is made for the remediation of major industrial sites once they reach end-of-life. Positive lessons learned from the site closure approach include the importance of engaging with the community, and of a coordinated government approach.