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Un-Pleasant Reality

Un-Pleasant Reality

By Paul Maguire
1 October 2022

Mount Pleasant coal mine, in Australia’s Hunter Valley, has been approved to double production and dig up coal until the end of 2048. Photo © Lock the Gate

Either coal is dead, or we are.
Does that seem a bit dramatic?
Just look at facts.
And follow the money.

Global scientific, social and ecological bells have been ringing for decades. Australian politicians have been forced to set net zero climate-chaos pollution targets. They should require a realistic energy transition – backing renewables.

A good start would involve diverting $2 billion in ‘development subsidy’ handouts promised to fossil fuel industries by the recently ousted federal Liberal coalition government. Duty of care comes down to action.

Despite overwhelming environmental-crisis evidence and unprecedented community concern, the New South Wales Government quietly approved, on 6 September 2022, a huge Hunter Valley coal mine expansion.

It is Mount Pleasant, a mine with four open-cut coal pits, three kilometres from Muswellbrook and five kilometres from Aberdeen. It’s not compatible with practical, coordinated steps for a greener, safer tomorrow.

There is a glimmer of hope though. It can be stopped. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Bengalla Rd, Muswellbrook with Mount Pleasant mine on the left, Bengalla mine on the right. Picture: Jonathan Carroll ACM/Newcastle Herald

The expansion deal is worth millions to government coffers, and loads of political capital, in some eyes. The state’s own figures show that in the 2019/20 tax year alone it dragged in royalties of $1.5 billion from coal. Using outdated development guidelines to back devastating, dinosaur technology is a crime against all life.

The Mount Pleasant approval allows coal to be dug up until 22 December 2048. Yes, about 12 months short of an internationally accepted net zero carbon emissions deadline!

Mount Pleasant has been approved to double annual production from 10.5 million tonnes to 21 million tonnes of coal every year. This is more than 400 million tonnes of coal above its initial approval, which was to end in four years.

It can operate 24-hours a day, seven days a week (existing conditions) and now runs 10 loaded coal trains 115 kilometres to the Port of Newcastle, every single day. Coal is then shipped, mainly to Asian countries, to be burned for electricity generation. Mount Pleasant’s expansion will create about 880 million tonnes of greenhouse gases.

The government’s environment department recommended approval and the government’s (so-called) Independent Planning Commission rubber stamped it. Heaps of people who’ve made a motza from mining through the years lobbied for the expansion. The commission’s approval statement admitted money and jobs were key factors.

Hundreds of direct and indirect jobs will be maintained and hundreds of millions of dollars will flow to businesses and governments. The approval statement noted that greenhouse gas emissions ‘have been adequately estimated and are permissible in the context of the current climate change policy framework’.

Economics screamed loud. Short-sighted is too soft a way to describe this approval. Insanity is closer to the mark. Energy and transport (based on fossil fuels) plus food (based on killing and eating other animals) are our three most deadly climate-chaos culprits. No if, but or maybe. Life on earth cannot survive mankind’s destructive ‘business as usual’ domination.

It’s the very reason net zero carbon targets were set. To expand fossil fuels, while pretending we’re headed for a different planetary outcome, simply is not sane. It’s just as foolish to think someone else will solve our crisis. Money and jobs are economic necessities, for sure, but they’re secondary to disasters such as floods, droughts, wildfires and tsunamis. Clean air, water, soil and a stable global climate are primary.

So if you are concerned, what can you do about this?

Our glimmer of hope lies with pressure we can all apply to the Australian Government. Federal Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, can block Mount Pleasant’s expansion if she’s convinced of its unacceptable environmental aftermath. Strangely, as I understand it, Australia’s current Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act does not consider catastrophic climate impacts. This must be changed.

In July 2022, the Environment Council of Central Queensland launched a legal intervention calling on the Australian Government to examine the climate impacts of 19 coal and gas projects up for federal approval. Mount Pleasant is one.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Ms Plibersek are thus well aware of the situation. But, they need public prompting to put humanity ahead of hubris and money.

Please contact these politicians and anyone else who could make a difference:


Further reading:

The Saturday Paper – Dispelling Coal to Newcastle
Published: 1 Oct 2022