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Upper House inquiry into EPA corruption allegations

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A NSW Legislative Assembly inquiry into the performance of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will examine its investigations regarding the effects of coal dust pollution in the Hunter Valley.

It has been alleged by Hunter Valley environment groups that the NSW EPA covered up information relating to the extent of coal dust pollution, in order to protect polluting companies.

Opposition leader and shadow minister for Environment and Climate Change Luke Foley moved for the inquiry on Thursday.

Foley has previously referred complaints, about the alleged cover-up of information relating to coal dust pollution in the Hunter Valley coal corridor, to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

The inquiry will also look into land contamination issues at Botany and Hillsdale, the EPA investigations into ground water contamination by Santos through CSG exploration, the prosecution of Du Pont for alleged land pollution at Girraween, the regulation of cruise ships at Balmain, and forestry practices in Royal Camp State Forest.

Santos was fined $1500 by the EPA last year for the contamination of a water aquifer with uranium at levels 20 times higher than safe drinking water guidelines.

Hunter Community Environment Centre spokesman Dr John MacKenzie welcomed the inquiry, and said that it was a “small but long overdue victory”.

“This inquiry is also vital for restoring community confidence in the EPA, given that its performance in recent years has fallen well shy of community expectations, especially on coal dust pollution,” he said.

“We are hopeful that the inquiry will improve the EPA’s ability to be a strong and effective environmental regulator.

“This inquiry is also vital for restoring community confidence in the EPA, given that its performance in recent years has fallen well shy of community expectations.”

MacKenzie said there was a proven link between particulate pollution from trains and coal stockpiles, and health problems in vulnerable individuals.

“Residents, environmentalists and the coal industry all agree on this,” he said.

“It is only the NSW EPA that has been standing in the way of air pollution regulation that would improve community health.”

EPA CEO Barry Buffier welcomed the inquiry, and said it would be “an opportunity to increase public awareness and understanding about the important role we play in protecting the communities and environment of NSW”.

The General Purpose Standing Committee no.5 will present its findings by February 14, 2015.

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