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Coal faces reality

Coal faces reality

Protesters will not close the Hunter Valley’s Mount Pleasant coalmine.
In fact, they won’t close any coalmine.
Never have.
Explain that, I hear you say.
In a moment.
Let’s step back a bit first.

By Paul Maguire
12 December 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

Coal, in general, and Mount Pleasant specifically, are shaping as crucial issues for the NSW government election in three months (March 25).
The state government used legislation, set up 43 years ago, to approve in September a gigantic expansion of Mount Pleasant’s massive open-cut pits just three kilometres from Muswellbrook.
This allows Mount Pleasant’s Indonesian owners to double production to 21million tonnes of coal a year, keep digging it up until the end of 2048 and create an extra 880million tonnes of deadly greenhouse gases.
Australia’s federal government usually rubber stamps such developments because money out-trumps ecology.
But this time it’s been held up.
A legal challenge by The Environmental Council of Central Queensland has forced federal environment minister Tanya Plibersek to reconsider Mount Pleasant, and 17 other monster coal and gas projects throughout the country.
The group wants Ms Plibersek to regard matters of national and planetary climate-altering and environmental importance that were either not considered, or not appropriately assessed, in the state government’s antiquated approval process.
Hopefully, for humanity’s sake, she acts honestly on scientific, social, ecological, ethical and economic information now on her desk.
We await her ruling.

Meanwhile, community action has taken another step.
A small Upper Hunter group, earlier this month, took legal action against Mount Pleasant.
The Denman, Aberdeen, Muswellbrook, Scone Healthy Environment Group summonsed the owner and the state government’s approval body, the so called Independent Planning Commission.
The Environmental Defenders Office has backed the residents.
They’ve asked for a NSW Land and Environment Court judicial review, requesting approval be declared invalid because of the mine’s climate, community health and eco-system impacts.

Now, lets return to closing coalmines and protesters.
Yes, protesters want business-as-usual gas and coalmine expansion to stop.
But …
It doesn’t matter whether people are standing on street corners holding colourful placards, writing scathing letters to politicians or seated behind clever barristers in some fancy courtroom.
Protesters don’t close coalmines.
They raise concerns – legitimate concerns – things that many people don’t realise, or don’t have the gumption to say out loud.

Coal-fired electricity, livestock agriculture and fossil-fuel based transport are humans’ three worst climate chaos accelerators.
At a minimum, for life on earth to survive, we must transition away from them all.
Today though, I’m focused on coal.
Ultimately, sugar coating cannot hide the fact that continued coal expansion is not a truthful transition to cleaner energy, a more stable climate or a safer future.
Thermal solar, photovoltaics, wind power, battery storage, worker re-employment, retraining, national pollution and waste reduction measures and diverting the $2billion federal “development subsidy” handouts for fossil fuel industries are part of a realistic transition.
And they’ll all get better as we work on them.

Protesters open eyes.
Coal owners close mines.
They run them to make money – bags of it.
They close them when consequences are laid bare, or they can make more money elsewhere.
Despite self gratification, coal owners are not benefactors with public interests their primary concern.
Money is their chief motivator.

To my mind there’s an enormous, overlooked problem with the Mount Pleasant issue.
It’s a pattern.
People complain, coal owners and other big money earners push back, legal eagles are engaged, the community is divided and politicians say they’re reassessing the situation.
Eventually, mining proceeds along with decades-old rhetoric of “strict conditions, on-going review of abatement and alternative technologies, plus other reforms and emission reduction strategies to meet carbon emission deadlines”.
And at government election time, politicians trot out fear tactics and the simplistic diatribe of jobs, jobs, jobs.
As naïve as I may be, I hope the reality of our climate choas and need for genuine transition on this occasion outweigh the past vacuous political theatre.
Now is the time to deal with jobs, jobs, jobs.
Mount Pleasant has about four years remaining on its existing approval.
If we’re serious, that’s plenty of time to introduce a practical transition.
People opposed to Mount Pleasant’s excessive expansion do not want workers thrown onto an employment scrapheap.
We’re calling for the protection of clean air, fresh water, wildlife habitat, fertile land along with a more stable climate and economic security for everyone in our community.
And old coal pits are an obvious place to start.
There are numerous square kilometres of Hunter Valley coalmines that are worked out and adjacent buffer zones that are locked up by decrepit approval gobbledygook.
Open them up.
Create jobs, and revitalise nature, by expanding buffer zones into fantastic wildlife corridors that extend right down our valley to the coast.
Create more jobs by using worked out mine site sections for sustainable, plant-based agriculture and innovative, alternative technology businesses.
A just transition is achievable if we all push aside propaganda, accept our climate crisis trajectory and genuinely apply ourselves to a new reality.


Further reading:

The Saturday Paper – Dispelling Coal to Newcastle
Published: 10 Nov 2022