Call off the zombies!

15 May 2013

I don’t know much about zombies. What I do know has been taught to me by my thirteen-year-old son: one of the first rules is don’t ever turn your back on them if you’re not sure they’re dead.

There are several new coal terminals proposed for Newcastle and the Great Barrier Reef coastline are not welcome by the community, will have unacceptable impacts on matters of national environmental significance, and are unlikely to proceed any time soon, now that demand for coal has slumped. And yet, the companies proposing them and the Governments assessing them, keep them undead, lurching slowly through the environmental assessment process.

This week, Glencore-Xstrata did the right thing by announcing that it was halting work on the Balaclava Island Coal Export Terminal, proposed for the Fitzroy delta. When they withdraw it from the State and Federal Environmental Impact Statement processes, then we’ll know they really mean it.

In Newcastle, everyone is talking about the decision by Port Waratah Coal Services to shelve their plans to build another coal terminal known as “T4” on Kooragang Island in the Hunter estuary. The proposal will clear habitat for protected migratory shorebirds and use land that is currently managed for conservation by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. There is widespread opposition to the proposal because of the already damagingly high levels of particulate pollution in the suburbs near the coal terminals. Henry du Plooy of Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS) has said publicly that, “We know that in the next five years the tonnes the producers want to contract for will not exceed what we can deliver from the existing terminals” (The Australian 3 May 2013). And yet, PWCS have stated that they will continue to seek Government approval for the project. So, we’re to clear vanishing habitat for internationally important birds for a coal terminal the proponent doesn’t even think will be used? If PWCS won’t withdraw it from the process, this zombie should be rejected out of hand by Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke, since the “justification” the company previously supplied no longer holds.

In Queensland, once Balaclava is off the table, there are eight large new coal terminals proposed for the Great Barrier Reef coastline. The World Heritage Committee has expressed profound concern at the impacts these will have on the world heritage values of the Reef.

Surely Australia would not contemplate building such monstrosities in coastal wetlands, seagrass beds and turtle habitat if the proponents of them didn’t even think they were needed? Brad Fish of North Queensland Bulk Ports has admitted that “At the current time the coal market is in a non-expansionary phase” (Mackay Mercury 4 April 2013). So, why is his company proposing to build the Dudgeon Point coal export terminals that would more than double the volume of coal currently leaving Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay? Take it off the table. Save the community the worry, and yourselves the money wasted on environmental assessments for a facility that is neither needed nor wanted.

The four coal terminals proposed for Abbot Point are the most troubling. To build these terminals, they’ll partly develop an important coastal wetland, build huge metal stacker-reclaimers right next to a beach where turtles nest and dredge millions of cubic metres of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area… But the analysts are saying there’s no call for additional coal export infrastructure in Australia.

Don’t believe us?

Ask Deutsche Bank, who have said that thermal coal is “at a crossroads” and that “existing capacity will largely be capable of meeting demand.” The idea that we would threaten the Reef, and the remnant coastal wetlands of the Hunter River estuary for coal terminals that coal companies aren’t even that keen on is bizarre but true. There are no more excuses for our environment Minister or the companies concerned. Accept that the age of coal is ending, and that your projects are now set to do much more harm than good: take them off the table and let’s move on.