Hot air at smog summit
By Tracy Sorensen
SYDNEY — An election promise by Liberal Premier Nick Greiner in the run-up to the NSW elections on May 25 has been fulfilled. A "smog summit" was held July 4-5 to talk about the Sydney region's worsening air pollution.
The promise was made when the State Pollution Control Commission's Sydney Pollution Index recorded a peak for May 6 of 218 points (readings of 50 are considered high).
After two days of talk, the problems are still with us, few concrete steps will be made, but at least everyone is more focussed on what the problems are. That, says Greenpeace atmosphere campaigner Karla Bell, is better than nothing.
The government sat and listened while representatives from environmental and community groups — including the Total Environment Centre, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Coalition for Urban Transport Sanity and Greenpeace — explained the urgent need to upgrade the public transport system, restrict cars in the central business district and suburban centres and introduce traffic calming.
"I think they heard it, but it's not clear they are going to do anything about it, because they are economic rationalists and they say they can't afford it", Bell told Green Left.
Cutbacks in rail announced in Greiner's July 2 mini-budget indicate a policy directly counter to a reduced reliance on the private car. The Roads and Traffic Authority is proposing another 60 kilometres of freeways in Sydney.
A positive outcome of the summit, said Bell, was a recognition that air pollution was related to a wide range of urban planning issues, from land use and transport to health.
The government has proposed to make provision for a light rail corridor for new developments on Sydney's periphery. "That's not that they've guaranteed they'll actually build the light rail on those corridors", said Bell. "But it's a small step, and we'll be urging them to build."
Stricter motor vehicle emission and noise standards, a tightening of industrial air discharge standards and the use of public transport for experiments with alternatives to petrol and diesel fuels were also proposed by the government.