WHEN Newcastle lord mayor Jeff McCloy offered ‘‘the support of the city’’ to the planned fourth coal loader in a glowing submission to the Department of Planning and Infrastructure, he did so without the authority of the council. And, in the process, he misrepresented the council’s formal position in relation to coal exports.
He chose the interests of multinational corporations over the interests of local residents, and failed to raise the concerns of residents – valid concerns about noise, dust and vibration from uncovered coal trains and stockpiles.
The increased quantity of coal exported through the Port will increase the harmful effects on residents and internationally important wetlands.
The proponents of T4 have failed to conduct a thorough health impact assessment to quantify the additional risk of hospitalisation, disease and death attributable to the proposal, despite repeated calls from residents for such a study.
How can uncovered coal wagons and stockpiles be considered ‘‘world best practice’’?
Cr McCloy has failed to critically analyse the company’s claim of 2900 new jobs associated with the proposal, when its own environmental assessment said not a single new operational job would be created.
The coal industry talks up benefits and ignores costs.
It crows about the importance of coal royalties to state government revenues, but they account for only 2per cent of revenues, far less than taxes on motor vehicles.
The industry talks up the benefit to the broader economy, but ignores the $4billion a year in direct subsidies to mining companies from the public purse.
And the industry is in decline. In NSW last year, about 3000 mine-related jobs were lost.
Deloitte Access Economics last year projected that mining investment in Australia, as a proportion of GDP, would decline to below 4per cent by 2023.
The cost of stranded assets, the retraining of the workforce and the cleaning up of polluted sites has been ignored.
About 95per cent of the total mass tonnes shifted through the Port is coal. The lord mayor has failed to advocate for a diversified Port to reduce our dependence on coal and to safeguard Newcastle from the inevitable shift from mining.
The T4 proponents have not committed to even building the terminal and the T4 proposal is out of step with global macro-economic indicators.
The strength of our economy relies on diversification, just as our energy future must rely on a diversification of energy sources and a reduction in our carbon pollution.
The World Bank and the European Investment Bank will no longer provide financial support for coal power generation projects.
They recognise the declining costs of wind and solar power and are scaling up investment in projects that improve energy efficiency and increase clean energy generation.
It is obvious that our energy future will be very different from the past; and coal will be less and less a part of it.
But the damage that coal can wreak in the meantime is real.
A few years ago, the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering calculated that the health costs of burning coal were equivalent to a national health burden of around $2.6billion every year.
The burning of the coal exported through the proposed T4 is equivalent to about 30per cent of Australia’s total annual carbon pollution.
There is no doubt that unmitigated climate change will damage our economy, transform our lifestyles and irreparably impact on our natural environment.
Scientists predict that we will get more intense Pasha Bulker-type storms, tides will rise, leading to more flooding, especially in low-lying areas and we will experience more extreme heatwaves, particularly affecting the most vulnerable in our community.
The changing climate will impact on our agricultural sector, including our world-renowned vineyards, and be detrimental to a sustainable export industry.
There is an alternative and we should map out Newcastle’s important role in the research and development of the new technologies that will allow for a 100per cent clean energy future.
Coal is the industry of the past. We want a diversified economy that will sustain our water, our land, and our communities for the long term.
When the lord mayor offers his support for the proposed T4 coal terminal, he is supporting an industry stuck in the past; he is not supporting Newcastle residents or the future of our city.
Michael Osborne is a Greens councillor on Newcastle City Council.
I you share Michael’s concerns write to the Department of Planning. Text of a draft letter here.