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Issue #1552      20 June 2012

Communities stand against coal greed *

Opposition is mounting across the Hunter Valley and NSW to Port Waratah’s Coal Services (PWCS) plans to build a fourth coal-loader terminal (T4) on Kooragang Island in Newcastle. Not so long ago farmers, horse breeders, wine producers, environmentalists, mine workers, concerned residents were seen protesting together with Greens, Communists and National Party members outside the NSW Parliament.

The last meeting of the Sydney Central Branch of the Communist Party of Australia heard two speakers from the region who pointed out the serious ramifications of T4.

John Shewan, senior spokesperson for the Wybong Action Group and Peter Kennedy a mine worker, environmentalist and member of the Communist Party addressed the meeting on the wider ramifications of the T4.

Shewan has had first hand experience of the impact of open cut coal mining. Wybong was a thriving dairy and agricultural community west of Muswellbrook prior to Centennial Coal taking up an exploration lease in the area. Centennial Coal later sold the lease to Xtrata who developed the Mangola open cut coal mine with all of its devastating consequences.

John described the T4 as a bad deal. It would open the way for the expansion of coal fields in the bush and see a huge increase in the transportation of coal through residential areas including Singleton, Maitland, Mayfield, Waratah through to Newcastle.

Already local residents are subjected to serious health risks from coal dust and diesel engine exhaust fumes and noise from trains.

The T4 would have the capacity to export 120 million tonnes of coal annually. The Port of Newcastle would become the biggest export terminal in the world.

But it was not just the question of health that brought such diverse forces together in opposing the T4. It will have serious ramifications for the future of one of Australia’s most important food bowls, for horse breeding, wineries and other local industries as well as irreversibly destroy the local environment.

The trains would have up to 97 wagons, the coal in the wagons would be uncovered, as it is now, giving off massive amounts of dust on windy days as well as heavy fumes containing suspended toxic diesel particles. The trains would run around the clock, every four minutes with a noise level of 60 decibels. The European standard sets 40 decibels as the maximum.

Serious health problems

The result, John said, would be a sky-rocketing of health problems – lungs, heart and mental resulting from loss of sleep at night.

“The go-ahead for new mines depends on the whim of the minister, not environmental concerns. By 2020, residents would be exposed to 137 nightly trains passing between 11pm and 7am,” Shewan said.

The very fine droplets of fuel released into the atmosphere lock onto the dust particles. As these fine particles are ingested they are dragged down into the lungs. They are carcinogenic and can produce cardiac changes.

The dust from the open cut pits is sometimes very high in silica. It is another asbestos-like disaster.

The lung function of 30 percent of children in Singleton is already seriously affected, setting them up for health problems and a shorter life.

It affects young people’s brains; there is already evidence of higher rates of autism amongst children from existing mining activities.

It will destroy the lives of tens of thousands of people who live along the train route in smaller towns could be affected.

The Hunter Valley is a food basin and a home to the equine and wine industries. They will be destroyed by air and water pollution resulting from coal mining.

“The coal mining companies are profiting at the expense of the community,” Peter Kennedy said.

He pointed to the environmental consequences of coal mining and the subsidy being given to the companies through the diesel fuel rebate – $2 billion annually across all mines. “It works out that every individual in Australia gives $86 annually to an industry capable of paying its own fuel bills.

“The costs of health are socialised, while the billions of profits in NSW are privatised. More importantly we should be moving away from coal as rapidly as possible. T4 takes us in the wrong direction,” Kennedy said.

“There is the technology to move away from coal for energy.

“What will be left in the Hunter Valley – hundreds of acres of unusable land. Governments are allowing companies to destroy our country, poison our children and walk away.

“Native forests and scrubland will be destroyed. We will lose native species and plants, our heritage destroyed,” Kennedy said.

Shewan pointed out that it is not just one more coal loader; it takes us beyond the tipping point. It will not even be a job creator; it will be fully automated with only a handful of jobs – 25-30 at maximum, fly-in-fly-out.

The company’s environmental assessment does not deal with the health impact, does not address the heavy cost to the community with the loss of food production, wineries and equine industry. Already some farmers and wine producers have left the area and horse breeders are talking about it.

The minister is currently looking at submissions before making a final decision.

For more information and links to other groups, visit

*As The Guardian went to press the government announced that T4 had been “shelved”, meaning they will be back with it later. Nonetheless, an example of the power of a concerted community campaign.  

Next article – Vale Anne Duffy-Lindsay

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