NSW: Fossil or balanced future?

Total Environment Centre - October 2011

Mining has had a privileged position in land use and policy decisions for many decades. This was based on the perceived importance of minerals to the productive capacity of the economy and society’s standard of living. Today the industry continues to echo those basic values highlighting itself as a key player in continued economic growth and prosperity in its marketing campaigns.

There is a certain arrogance in the mining culture emboldened by years of privilege.
Now in New South Wales, coal and gas mining are under attack because of the vast extent of the future industry and threat to two crucial activities – farming and environmental services such as water supply.
The same arguments are being proffered in defence: financial gain to the community and government; full blown commitments to quality
environmental performance; and a belief that harmony can be achieved. And a new theme from the gas industry – that it is a transitional fuel to the low carbon future where greenhouse gases pose far less threat to the earth’s climate.

But this time we need to learn the lessons from past conflicts where after a relatively brief period of dispute, mining continued to expand and cause unacceptable damage. Mine by mine site – the cumulative impacts grew.
Exploration permits have continued to be granted pre-empting balanced land use planning. And while the gas industry has added an environmentally responsible chord to its chant – the evidence is lacking to support the case it has a significantly lower carbon footprint than coal. The suggestion it is a ‘transitional fuel’ (meaning it would phase out as quickly as possible to make way for zero emission energy generation) is also unconvincing. In fact the gas industry actively casts doubt on wind farms and other renewables, seeking to retard their progress.

The future environmental, agricultural and rural fundamentals of major NSW regions are under severe attack. Land use and energy policy are
being written by exploration permits and case by case mine development decisions.
The recently elected New South Wales government says it is committed to strategic land use planning; stricter environmental controls and where
appropriate, excluding mining. Intensive work is underway inside government by several agencies and a large stakeholder advisory group is being consulted. Decisions on a land use framework and the most urgent regions are expected early in 2012.
This time, real gains need to be made in protecting environmental and agricultural values and balance restored. Otherwise the social licence to operate won’t exist for the mining industry. Nor will government decisions be accorded community and political credibility and respect.

Read the full paper:
Total Environment Centre – NSW: Fossil or Balanced Future?

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