EPA ‘not comfortable’ with fast-tracked Chinese smelter

The Andrews Labor Government rushed planning approval in order to fast-track a Chinese owned lead smelter in the Latrobe Valley, while being unaware of the long term impact of lead emissions.

The site, less than two kilometres from a primary school, was quietly given the green light in early 2021 despite a petition containing more than two thousand signatures against it.

Shadow Environment Minister Cindy McLeish said it was irresponsible to approve the project without knowing the full environmental implications.

“To not commission a comprehensive environmental study for a lead processing plant is a real slap in the face to the people of the Latrobe Valley,” Ms McLeish said.

“The Andrews Government is too preoccupied with looking after their overseas friends, and this time it is at the expense of the Hazelwood community.”

In June 2019, Treasurer Tim Pallas flew to China to be pitched the proposal by Chunxing Corporation, a participant in the Chinese Communist Government’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The Andrews Labor Government then dismissed the request for an Environmental Effects Statement (ESS) on the lead battery recycling facility on the grounds that Chunxing Corporation had completed a self-assessment on the project.

The Government also ignored objections by Latrobe City Council and bypassed a pending Victorian Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision to fast-track the project.

When questioned on why the smelter was approved without an independent ESS and after opposition from the local council, the Minister for Planning said that the facility had been “comprehensively assessed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)”.

In documents obtained by the Liberal Nationals via Freedom of Information (FOI), the EPA says modelling results for various pollutants were not presented, slamming the company for failing to adhere to proper standards.

Additionally, it said the long term fate of lead emissions and impact of having a battery processing plant in the Latrobe Valley is unknown.

Nationals MP Melina Bath said residents were devasted that the project was approved without transparency or comprehensive community consultation.

“It is unfathomable that the Planning Minister would not only endorse, but rush to approve project that could emit more than 54kg of lead annually so close to homes, a school and prime agriculture land.”