BY: Tracey Carpenter

The battle over Australia’s energy future played out in the tiny town of Cullen Bullen to the north of Bathurst this week at the Coalpac mine extension public meeting.

Residents and environment groups opposed extension of the open cut mine into the Gardens of Stone pagoda country. Some spoke of ill health and respiratory impacts from the existing mine. Also aired were water contamination, land slippage, dodgey environmental studies and attempts to discredit Aboriginal heritage in the area and the companies struggling fortunes. Surprisingly coal miners from adjacent mines also spoke against the short term extension claiming it threatened their existing longer term jobs in competing mines. The claim that the mine extension would miraculously reduce power prices looked pollyanaish when the money chain to foreign shareholders was more closely examined. A local publican and social worker spoke for a lifeline for the twice rejected mine extension describing the downturn in employment and local business since mining prospects had begun to exhaust themselves.

BCCAN opposed further expansion of the fossil fuel industry as a step in the wrong direction from the vital energy transition Australia and the world must make towards smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The Government should finally walk away from new coalmines, roundly reject the proposed Coalpac Consolidation Project and protect the Gardens of Stone for all time. But the disproportionate influence of the fossil fuel industry and climate sceptics in Australia has allowed the coal industry to ride rough shod over the interests of the community and future generation’s for too long.

The energy supply sector must drastically reduce its emissions if we are to have a reasonable chance of avoiding dangerous global warming. Europe aims to “absolutely decouple” economic growth from the environmental impacts of energy use by transitioning to renewable and clean energy sources.

Recent reports on the direct impact of coal mining on human health alone should be a wake-up call to phase out coal production rapidly and replace it with renewable energy. The disaster to human health of coal-fired power has reached a point where the Chinese Government has finally acted to reduce emissions, ban dirty coal imports and fast pace the shift to alternatives.

China’s move to clean up its energy sector has shocked Australia’s coal producers. Will it hit only dirtier suppliers, could it increase the price of some exports short term and could others afford to wash billions of tonnes of coal for the international markets?

Thinking longer term, the restrictions signal a willingness of the Chinese leadership to take a hit on energy prices in order to address air pollution. With every step that the Chinese Government tightens pollution controls over coal it is narrowing the cost-gap with alternative sources of energy. This is good news for the renewable energy sector and those who want to see the world act on climate change by lowering greenhouse gas emissions generated by burning (and mining) fossil fuels.

Sadly across Australia as in Cullen Bullen we are experiencing a wholesale attack and overruling of any constraints and control of the fossil fuel industries and the damage wrought on our local environment, communities and the global climate.

Tracey Carpenter is President of Bathurst Community Climate Action Network