Following Coal Action Network Aotearoa’s (CANA) ‘Keep the Coal in the Hole’ Summerfest and successful campaign launch held last year in Mataura, a smaller gathering met up the road in Gore this year. This year’s event organised by Coal Action Murihiku (CAM), the Southland regional group, was entitled “Shaping our future: We have options!”
Jeanette Fitzsimmons reflection on CANA’s activity over the past year made it clear that the campaign has been very successful in growing the number of ‘active’ supporters nationwide. With the establishment of many regional network groups, the opposition to coal mining has been demonstrated in a variety of ways. For example, Bathurst, an Australian mining company, were surprised by the ‘welcome’ they were given by a large crowd opposing mining, as Prime Minister John Key opened their new offices in Wellington in March last year.
On the other hand Solid Energy’s past year has been less than rosy. In Southland, where our nation’s biggest plans for new mining exist, Mataura’s lignite briquetting plant, which was due to open mid 2012, has still not opened. Jeanette quipped that it was the cleanest industrial coal plant in the world, with zero carbon emissions! This is in spite of the fact that there has been $29 million investment of tax-payers money. Solid Energy suggests the plant will open soon but it is still trying to find a market for its briquettes.
Solid Energy’s other ‘think big’ plans are also on the back burner with no fertiliser partner found for the lignite to urea plant after Ravensdown pulled out and the lignite to diesel project is now just a pipe dream. Solid Energy remain without the necessary capital. With Solid Energy now $40 million in the red, due in part to the low international coal prices currently, and the company now off our government’s list to be sold, clearly lignite is a liability, rather than an asset.
So overall it seems that CANA has had a better year than Solid Energy.
The line up of guests speakers at the day-long public information meeting held on the Sunday was impressive. Speakers includes the CE of the WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature) Peter Hardstaff, Cath Wallace from ECO (Environment and Conservation Organisations) and local Invercargill surgeon OraTaio:New Zealand Climate and Health Council. In addition Gareth Renowden, climate change blogger and author of Hot Topic and Clare Lenihan, Environmental Lawyer addressed an audience of approximately 150 strong. Local Mayors were also invited with the Gore District Council Mayor, Tracy Hicks, opening the day and the Southland District Council Mayor, Frana Cardno closing.
The main stars however were Rob and Sally McCreath, farmers from Queensland, Australia. They shared their experience as part of a group ‘Friends of Felton’, who have recently been successful in stopping a large coalmine and petrochemical plant from going ahead on prime agricultural farmland on the Darling Downs. This resulted after government finally listened to community and this community win is considered a ‘first’ for Queensland where mining has expanded on a massive scale in recent years. Rob and Sally were able to share some tips for local people and campaigners alike.
Rob told the audience that the idea of digging up fertile farmland for lignite coal was “100% stupidity”, after he had just toured around the fertile Mataura Valley. “It’s disgraceful that you have a government-owned company and they’re allowing it to dig up this beautiful farmland”, Rob said.
So, where to next for the ‘Keep the Coal in the Hole’ campaign? It seems that the way forward might be more of the same, i.e. continuing to raise public awareness of the threats from further exploitation of fossil fuels, building stronger coalitions with partner organisations on issues of mutual concern (e.g. fracking and deep sea oil drilling), keeping well-informed of mining developments across the country as well as being savvy about the way that mining companies operate. Whilst the mining industry is clearly suffering right now for economic reasons, there is now real momentum behind the movement towards a Coal –free Aotearoa by 2027.