No amount of planning can make an infrastructure proposal with unacceptable impacts acceptable. And planning that merely lauds the positive aspects of a proposal, and does nothing to minimise, offset or compensate for the burden of its impacts, is more spin than substance.
PWCS would no doubt prefer if the assessment of the impacts of their proposed coal terminal were limited to those inside its perimeter chain link fence. But the reality is that its negative impacts extend far beyond the port, will be experienced and endured by communities throughout the Hunter, and for generations.
It is little wonder that opposition to the proposal for a fourth coal terminal has forged an unprecedented alliance between resident, environmental, and community groups across our region.
At its core, the overarching community objection to T4 is one of principle: no infrastructure project should burden so many, in exchange for the private benefit of so few. The catalogue of T4′s public burden is diverse and wide-ranging.
T4 will add more particle pollution to our air. Particulate pollution in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley frequently breaches World Health Organisation recommended levels. The community already lives with levels of pollution in the air that are injurious to our health, even without the additional burden of the fourth terminal. Despite the repeated insistence of NSW Health and the residents of the impacted suburbs, PWCS have stubbornly refused to conduct a health impact assessment that would properly assess the risks of T4, particularly to vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and those with chronic disease. A health assessment is not negotiable for a project of this magnitude.
The health impacts of coal mining and haulage are well documented. People living in coal-affected communities are more likely to suffer heart, lung and kidney cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular disease and birth defects. There is a direct link between long-term exposure to particle pollution and hospital admissions, emergency department attendance, asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure and premature death.
The proposed terminal and its uncovered coal piles would displace several hundred hectares of wetland that comprise the Hunter Estuary, widely regarded as the single most significant site for migratory shorebirds in New South Wales, among the top ten in Australia, and internationally recognised via its listing under the Ramsar Convention in 1984. The estuary is among the last remaining vestiges of habitat anywhere in the world for the 112 species of waterbirds and 45 species of migratory birds listed as endangered under international agreements.
The coal demand envisaged by T4 would mean blasting out at least eight large new or expanded open-cut coalmines in the Hunter Valley, Gunnedah Basin and beyond. This means more controversial new mines like those being pushed at Maules Creek, Denman, Gloucester and Wallarah, and more expansions like the one threatening to ruin Bulga. These mines come at a cost – destroyed remnant bushland, devoured agricultural land, depleted, salinated and acidified aquifers, and dislocated communities. Mining expansion on this scale would tip the precarious balance of industry co-existence in the Hunter Valley definitively and irreversibly in favour of mining.
T4 is a global warming accelerator. Burning the coal shipped through T4 would produce more than 175 million tonnes of greenhouse pollution each year – throwing fuel on the climate change fire and, undermining efforts to cut emissions in Australia and elsewhere around the world. To give some perspective on the climate cost of T4, it would create more annual CO2 emissions than Pakistan, a country of 193 million people.
The claims by PWCS of endless economic benefit accruing to the city of Newcastle should be viewed with scepticism. The method used by PWCS to determine the economic impact of T4, known as Input-Output Analysis, has been widely discredited due to its inherent bias in over-estimating project benefits. So much so, in fact, that the Australian Bureau of Statistics rejected this technique in 2001, stating that “[its] inherent shortcomings make [it] inappropriate for economic impact analysis”. This is a project whose benefits were overstated from its inception and which was dreamed up at the height of a coal boom that has long since given way to an oversupplied market. China, the primary envisaged destination for the extra coal T4 would ship, is simultaneously capping its coal use and reducing its reliance on imported coal. Globally, the market for coal is expected to remain depressed indefinitely, with some analysts predicting it will in fact never recover. In this context, the proposal to increase Newcastle’s capacity to 280 Mtpa seems absurdly optimistic and reckless.
T4 is not wanted by the Newcastle community. Recently, the Coal Dust Free Streets project, a collaboration between the Hunter Community Environment Centre and residents groups, interviewed twelve hundred residents in the coal affected communities of Stockton, Mayfield, Islington and Tighes. The results speak for themselves: more than 90% of those surveyed agree that the coal wagons and stockpiles should be covered. Only 20% of those polled support T4.
PWCS could have at least put forward a proposal for a new terminal utilising world’s best practice in environmental and community health protection, included covered stockpiles and wagon technology. The use of outdated technology, hardly suited to the port of a modern city and much less the world’s already largest coal port, demonstrates the wilful disregard that PWCS have for the health and wellbeing of the community in which they operate.
The decision to approve T4 must weigh the value of its predicted benefits against the public cost. The massive public costs of the project, in terms of the provision of public health, the remediation and restoration of damaged environments, the costs associated with mitigation and adaptation to climate change, and the opportunity of costs of increasing coal dependence, cannot be justified, given that the benefits of T4 will be limited, flowing all but exclusively to the overseas owners of the major coal companies.