Outrage greets Anvil Hill coalmine approval


In what the superstitious might call nature's revenge, wild seas caused a coal freighter to run aground in Newcastle on June 8, the day after the NSW Labor government approved the opening of a massive open-cut coalmine at Anvil Hill in the Hunter region.

The Australian Student Environment Network (ASEN) held an action of around 25 people outside the Department of Planning in response to the decision, announced by NSW planning minister Frank Sartor in the same week as World Environment Day and just days after 500 people from around NSW converged on Anvil Hill to protest the planned mine.

ASEN national convener Nicky Ison said that the mine's approval "exposes the state government as shamefully uncommitted to combating dangerous climate change. Anvil Hill will produce 27 million tonnes of greenhouse pollution every year, more than the entire NSW transport sector of 4 million vehicles."

On the day of the announcement, share prices of the company to mine the site, Centennial Coal, rose by 8%. Anvil Hill is expected to be worth $9 billion for Centennial over the mine's lifetime.

Ignoring thousands of public submissions and years of community protest, Sartor told the media that to reject the mine would have been to "inflict a penalty" on the economy.

Peter Gray, a Newcastle activist who took the mine proposal to court, said that the "10 million tonnes of coal from Anvil Hill will wreak irreparable damage on the global climate, tipping the planet further towards dangerous, runaway climate change. In the face of such massive impacts, the Iemma government still couldn't find the guts to say no to the coal lobby."

In a desperate attempt to bolster his environmental credibility, on June 8 Premier Morris Iemma announced $22 million towards "clean coal" initiatives. $20 million of this will go to a geosequestration project, aimed at capturing and storing carbon dioxide underground. The technology remains unproven and even if viable is not expected to be commercially deployed until 2020.

"That money could be spent on development of renewable energy initiatives and moving the Hunter away from a coal future to a clean, renewable energy future", said Greenpeace's Stephen Campbell.

The Iemma government is rightly scared of the public response to the Anvil Hill approval. However, it is unlikely that the "clean coal" green-wash will appease this sentiment. While the state government's approval is a setback for the environment movement, the fight to stop the mine and the expansion of the coal industry in NSW is far from over.

"We will continue to express our disgust and opposition to the mine until the decision is repealed", said Jenny Reed from Sydney University's environment collective.