Big coal’s budget boast

Seeing through the dust: Coal in the Hunter Valley economy

Today The Institute released new research on Hunter Valley Coal.

The major finding of the paper is that the coal industry is not vital to the region, and coal royalties contribute only 2 per cent to the state budget.

Hunter Valley coal is a big polluter and a small employer. People in the Hunter Valley think it employs about 20 per cent of the workforce. In fact it only employs 5 per cent of Hunter Valley workers. Coal contributes only 2 per cent to the state budget (although many Hunter Valley residents think it is more like 20 per cent). That’s just a little more than traffic fines and licences bring in. Wine, food, horses and beautiful scenery are all major drawcards for the Hunter, and they employ a significant number of people. All these industries rely on a clean, green valley, not one choked by coal dust and gutted by mines. In fact, promotion of the coal industry could be damaging to these industries, as the clean green image so vital to their wellbeing is tarnished.

Coal dust is made up mainly of pm10’s, which can cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancer and premature death. Hunter Valley residents are concerned not only about the impacts to other local industries but also to their health, and the health of the surrounding environment. Most people who live in the Hunter don’t want the expansion of coal mining, even though they’ve been led to believe it creates far more jobs and state income than it actually does.

Some of the findings include:

  • A strong majority (83 per cent) of Hunter Valley residents do not want to see the coal industry expand, while 41 per cent would like to see it decrease or be phased out.
  • Local residents believe the coal industry employs four times more people than it does and that coal royalties contribute 10 times more income to the NSW Budget than is the case.
  • Residents are concerned about the negative effect the industry has on the Hunter’s air quality and health, on water and bushland and its impact on other local industries such as vineyards, horse studs, tourism and agriculture.

Download: Seeing through the dust: Coal in the Hunter Valley economy

Help us defend the Renewable Energy Target

With Joe Hockey tilting at wind turbines, and the PM believing that coal is “our destiny” we’re getting a little worried about the Renewable Energy Target (RET).

Australian gas prices are set to rise, meaning cheaper alternatives will be sought to fill the gap. With climate change sceptic Dick Warburton heading up a panel of reviewers who have a history of opposing  environmental legislation, there are real concerns over whether renewable energy will be in a position to fill this gap, or decommissioned coal fired power station will be started up again.

The RET is very effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions even before avoiding a regressive move back to coal. We have renewable energy, and therefore the RET  to thank, in large part, for our falling greenhouse gas emissions (at least in energy production).

The rise of renewable energy is largely down to incentives created by the RET. A report for the Clean Energy Council[1] found that 90 per cent of additional renewable generation was attributable to the RET. The report also found that the RET, from its inception in 2001 until 2011, had been responsible for reducing emissions by 22.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). Without the RET, emissions in 2012 would have been four per cent higher.

To paraphrase Ms Scarlett O’Hara, ‘RET, if you go, where shall we go? What shall we do?’

The modelling shows that from 2013 to 2020, abolishing the RET would add an additional 76 million tonnes of CO2e. To put this into context, according to the government’s figures[2] the abatement task from 2013 to 2020 is 457 million tonnes of CO2e. This means the RET would be responsible for about 17 per cent, or one sixth, of the required abatement.

Aesthetics aside, renewable energy generation has far less impact on the environment, both locally and on the climate. Australia is far behind the move to renewable energy seen internationally. We have an abundance of sun and wind, and have produced cutting-edge solar technology.

It’s no surprise that the Business Council of Australia, backed by Australian Petroleum and Exploration Association want the RET scrapped (concerned they’ll be Gone with the Wind?). Australia should ensure we have a viable renewable energy market ready for when we transition away from coal. Maintaining the RET is a good way of doing so. Frankly, we need to start giving a damn about the RET.

Download: Submission into the Renewable Energy Target

Divestment Campaign Gathers Momentum

The move to divest from coal fossil fuels continues to grow. A survey released this week from, who we partnered with on the paper Climate Proofing Your Investments: Moving Funds out of Fossil Fuels showed that 67 per cent of consumers would change superannuation funds based on their exposure to fossil fuels. The increasing popularity of the movement led the Minerals Council to question the ethics of the investment and superannuation industries for taking action to remove fossil fuels from their list of investments.

This in turn prompted Phil Vernon, managing director of Australian Ethical, to question the ethics of the Minerals Council itself, and also to question how actions based on overwhelming scientific evidence came to be considered as ethical actions in the first place. Mr Vernon challenged the Council’s questioning “the ethical consistency of investing in wind turbines when they are made using coal-fired power as inputs.” By countering that “there is no inconsistency. Using an old, fading technology to manufacture the next generation’s infrastructure is ethically acceptable as a justifiable part of transitioning to a new clean economy. Imagine what our future would look like if this was all that coal was used for.”

The Australia Institute has been a strong supporter of the Divestment campaign, and also of renewable energy. It’s great to see new voices countering those of an old and powerful industry.

 Meanwhile, a new report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) this week states that “The Australian coal industry is at significant financial risk of stranded assets as major global powers act on climate change, with regulatory changes threatening to destabilise a number of Australian projects. Government action on fossil fuels in the US, China and South Korea, combined with investment in renewables, distributed solar and energy efficiency, constitute an “unprecedented risk” to the traditional demand base for thermal coal, a new report details” and “The fact that Australia’s government is not acting on carbon emissions is irrelevant because the domestic coal industry relies on export markets and we’re now seeing the governments of those nations acting decisively. The Australian coal industry is being fundamentally destabilised by actions that are out of our government’s control.” Which is even more reason to continue supporting the renewable energy sector.

Download: Climate Proofing Your Investments: Moving Funds out of Fossil Fuels

Winter Clearing of Leard Forest for Open-Cut Coal Stopped

Some great news in from the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) NSW, who have been assisting Maules Creek Community Council in their action against Whitehaven Coal. Whitehaven Coal was to clear areas of forest for a new open-cut coal mine. Clearing in winter impacts heavily on animals that hibernate through the season, as they have no opportunity to escape from machinery. We’ve copied the EDO’s press release below:

“Whitehaven Coal today has halted its winter clearing operations at the Leard State Forest for its new open cut coal mine, in north-western NSW, following legal action by the Maules Creek Community Council.

The Maules Creek Community Council, represented by environmental law experts, EDO NSW, sought an interim injunction in the NSW Land and Environment Court, to immediately stop the clearing during winter when animals, including threatened species, are hibernating in the forest.

A judgment in the case was expected at 4pm today after a hearing on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday. However, Whitehaven instead has given an undertaking to the Court that it will halt the clearing until a full hearing on the matter, which is expected in early September.

The Maules Creek Community Council is arguing that Whitehaven is in breach of its development consent by winter clearing of the forest. A breach of development consent contravenes the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

The new Maules Creek coal mine project involves a total clearing of 1664 hectares of forest which provide habitat for threatened species including bats, koalas, forest owls, the Swift Parrot and the Regent Honeyeater.”



[1]   SKM (2012a) Benefit of the Renewable Energy Target to Australia’s Energy Markets and Economy.

[2]   Australian Government Department of the Environment (2013) Australia’s Abatement Task and 2013 Emissions Projections.

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