Question Time: Coal ash dams
16th February 2021
Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (15:09): My question is directed to the Minister for Energy and Environment.
Ms Yasmin Catley: Question on notice.
Mr GREG PIPER: No, it is without notice.
The SPEAKER: That is enough from the member for Swansea.
Mr GREG PIPER: With understandable increasing community concern about the massive and growing stockpiles of coal ash from thermal power stations—yes, in Swansea as well—what is the Government doing to ensure that material will not just be left for future generations to deal with?
Mr MATT KEAN (Hornsby—Minister for Energy and Environment) (15:09): I thank the member for Lake Macquarie for his question and for the opportunity to visit his electorate late last year to see the impact of those ash dams on not only the environment but also his whole community. It is a really important issue and one that the Government takes very seriously. In New South Wales we have strict regulations, enforced and upheld by the NSW Environment Protection Authority [EPA], around how ash dams are managed. But the community needs to have confidence that those liable for the problem will take responsibility for it. It is the Government's job to make sure that happens.
The last thing the Government wants is business creating a mess and leaving it for the rest of us—including the community of the member for Lake Macquarie—to deal with. The best outcome is for coal ash to be re-used and recycled. Using ash, new products can be created that do not leave the community exposed to that substance. It can be used in creating new products like green cement, for example. Recycling coal ash not only helps improve the environment near those power stations, but also helps reduce the amount of carbon used in industrial processes like creating cement. It is a great outcome for the environment in many ways. That is one area the Government focused on when developing its 20-year Waste Strategy and implementing its net zero emissions programs.
Green cement can create the opportunity to protect the environment and create jobs, not only in the Lake Macquarie and Hunter regions but also right across New South Wales. There are huge emerging opportunities, particularly as the world moves to a net zero global economy. Creating jobs, growing our economy, reducing our emissions and protecting our environment have always been the focus of the Government. How can we get good environmental outcomes whilst growing the economy as well? I look forward to providing an update to the House about the 20-year Waste Strategy. We are currently in the final stages of the development of that strategy. I assure the member for Lake Macquarie that there will be a role for the re-use of coal ash in that plan, creating a circular economy using coal ash to try to reduce the amount that is being put into those ash dams. Thanks to the advocacy of the member for Lake Macquarie, the Government has included that as part of the 20-year Waste Strategy.
The Government is looking at a number of mechanisms to increase the uptake and use of coal ash, including boosting demand by using more recycled material in infrastructure projects. It will be investing in the development of standards and certifications around the use of recycled content for industry, making it easier for industry to purchase and use products that use coal ash. In addition, it will be providing direct investment in the development of technology and innovation to increase the beneficial re-use of recycled products like coal ash. It will look to foster partnerships between industry and government to address information barriers. Finally, central to the Government's plan will be using the purchasing power of government to drive demand for the use of recycled products, including products that use coal ash in their production.
In the meantime, we need to make sure that we have very strong regulations in place to protect the environment and people who live near those dams. The EPA will continue to be a tough cop on the beat and a strong environmental watchdog, protecting communities like those represented by the member for Lake Macquarie. The Government will ensure that it continues to have strong regulations in place to protect our environment, to protect communities like Lake Macquarie, and to ensure that New South Wales remains the best place to live, work and raise a family.
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