Community opposition grows to proposed T4 coal loader

Issue 

Public submissions to the NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) over July 12 and 13 were overwhelmingly against a fourth coal terminal (T4) to be located at Kooragang Island, near Newcastle.

The public had been invited to the NSW Department of Planning and Environment’s assessment of the $4.8 billion project known as T4 by Port Waratah Coal Service. A decision on the coal loader is not expected for several months.

A two-day hearing in August last year, addressed by more than 100 people, including from environment organisations Lock the Gate Alliance and Hunter Community Environment Centre, was overwhelmingly against the development.

Opponents said it would contribute to global warming and adversely impact flora and fauna and air quality.

They warned then that any expansion of coal mining would detract from economic diversification — including funding renewable energy alternatives. The hugely costly project was unjustifiable, they said, because the coal industry is in decline. Only about 80 people would eventually be employed at the terminal.

Nevertheless, the PAC recommended the project go ahead subject to 16 not-very-stringent conditions. The NSW planning department rejected 12 recommendations, modified three and accepted three.

This hearing was almost a carbon copy of the first. About 90% of the close to 100 people participating spoke against the project for similar reasons.

Newcastle Greens councillor Michael Osborne told ABC news on July 13 that the planning department had ignored the potential harm to endangered wildlife and the health of 32,000 residents living within 500 metres of the coal corridor.

John MacKenzie from the Hunter Community Environment Centre described it as “zombie project”. “The community is against it. The evidence is against it. The economics of a new coal terminal stacks up against it ... We need the commissioners to come out and recognise that this project is dead”, he was quoted by the ABC as saying.

Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes weighed in angrily against the company’s argument it should not be asked to pay the 1% developer contribution to council, describing it as a form of “tax avoidance”. The coal company would be liable for $48 million in levies.

I made a submission and asked what it would take for the NSW government to respect the majority community opposition to the T4.

I noted that the PAC had expressed doubts about the company’s economic modelling, done by the Centre for International Economics (CIE). That report stated that the proponent’s economic analysis in support of the new terminal was “generally reasonable”, even though it was not asked to include international GHG mitigation measures in its estimates.

I argued that as the CIE has not been asked to include the significant effects of climate change, the economic model it had used was flawed.

As the Newcastle Herald opined on July 13, “[T]he T4 loader has effectively become much more than just a single industrial project.

“It’s a symbol … of the reality that is the coal industry in the 21st century: an industry that usually gets its own way, but in a world where more and more people are questioning the cost of fossil fuels.”

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