Eskom, South Africa’s biggest polluter, has asked for additional emission exemptions at two of its biggest plants.

The state-owned utility, which is struggling to meet its costs and has R454-billion in debt, has applied to the environment ministry to delay complying with sulphur-dioxide emission limits at its Medupi coal-fired plant by five years.

It’s also seeking permission not to install emission reduction equipment at its Matimba plant at all, saying it’s not cost effective.

Eskom has said that it will slash emissions of three major pollutants by 2035, while it asks for exemptions to incoming standards to avoid as much as R37-billion in expenditure.

The state-owned utility projected that by 2035, as plants reach the end of their life, it will reduce its particulate matter emissions by 58%, its sulphur dioxide by 66% and its nitrogen dioxide by 46%.

Emissions of particulate matter, which cause respiratory diseases, are already at a 20-year-high since equipment at the utility’s Kendal plant was damaged during a strike, reports Fin24.

While independent studies allege that Eskom’s pollution kills about 2,000 people in South Africa a year, the company puts the number at 320.

Environmentalists have taken the government to court over its failure to rein in emissions from the utility.

The Centre for Environmental Rights says Eskom’s applications are illegal as these had to be made by the end of March 2019.

“This is Eskom’s fifth application to delay compliance with national air pollution laws that primarily exist to protect people’s health, children in particular,” Timothy Lloyd, an attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights told Tech Central.

“We dispute the lawfulness of this belated application for weaker emission limits.”

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