The objective of the LRC’s Environment work is to equip South Africa’s civil society to participate effectively in environmental governance in order to protect the environmental rights enshrined in the Constitution. The LRC provides improved legal representation and technical support for environmental organisations as well as vulnerable and marginalised communities.
We seek to enhance environmental decision-making by promoting effective and informed public participation and access to information. The main mechanisms employed are litigation, representation of clients during administrative procedures, networking, education in the law and law reform.
Our environmental work focuses on addressing the impact of development activities that are likely to affect the health, livelihood and well-being of marginalised and poor people and communities. It examines decision-making relating to mainly new industrial activities, as well as addressing harm caused to the environment and health by past poorly regulated activities. The thematic issues include fostering sustainable development and enforcement of best practice in licensing new activities as well as in rehabilitation of environmental harm, and promoting safety and health at the workplace. Our work typically involves representing clients in environmental impact assessment (EIA) processes for the authorisation of new industries, litigation compelling the rehabilitation of mining activities, and engaging in law reform around our key focus areas.
In all this, the protection of public health and environment through the proper protection of water resources is key. In the past, we have focused on air quality and the prevention of environmental disasters. Our specific focus will be in the areas of rehabilitation of mind dumps, and authorisation of new industrial and farming activity where air and water quality may be compromised.
The LRC aims to contribute to the following:
- Effective and constructive participation in EIA processes concerning the activities of potentially harmful industries and activities (including incinerators).
- Greater participation in regional air quality planning to address the incremental and cumulative effects of multi-source pollution on the ambient air quality and human health.
- Greater participation in water resource management processes to ensure sustainability of the resource and planning processes in the interest of equitable access to this scare resource.
- Addressing the environmental implications of mining and general management of waste.-
- Contributing to the law reform process by making submissions on amendments to legislation and proposed new legislation.
- Providing legal and technical expertise to communities that have no other recourse to the law to achieve the abatement of pollution and harm caused by polluting and environmentally unsustainable practices.
- Research and develop strategies available to those affected to address environmental injustice, degradation of the environment and inequitable and unsustainable natural resource utilisation.
The LRC is the only public interest environmental law practice in South Africa that provides these services to those who are unable to afford to pay. We interact with other public interest environmental law organisations as well as communities affected by environmental problems. Feedback from this kind of interaction and the active interest of the lawyers allows us to structure our work in a way that most effectively addresses the environmental issues of public interest.
The LRC works in the following broad areas:
- Air quality and water quality in priority areas where air and water quality is compromised
- Mining related environmental problems
- The EIA process for proposed new nuclear power plants
- Protecting procedural rights in the EIA process in a number of individual cases
- Medical waste management
- Large industrial processes impacting on the surrounding environment
- The right to information on genetically modified organisms.
Over the past ten years, we have achieved the following results, amongst others:
- A reduction in sulphur dioxide emissions in all four oil refineries in South Africa and negotiation of an emission reduction plan with some
- Rehabilitation of abandoned mine sites affecting the health and well-being of nearby communities
- Judicial review of mine permits granted with very lenient measures for environmental protection
- Closure of illegal mining operations
- Negotiation of environmental management plans with large industrial developments
- Prevention of authorisation for medical waste incinerators without sufficient air pollution control devices
- Active representation of civil society in law reform processes, leading to the inclusion of issues important to clients in the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), revised EIA regulations and the Air Quality Act
- Negotiating a reduction in lead and sulphur levels in fuel
- Successful litigation overturning authorisation granted for development of a nuclear power plant where interested and affected parties were not given opportunity to be heard on the final EIA.