News & Media Opinion Pieces A tale of two coal mines; how our future health is decided

A tale of two coal mines; how our future health is decided

The Good News

The New York Times reported on February 28,
“People who worry about global warming and want the United States to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions received some very good news over the weekend from a very unlikely source. As part of an ambitious buyout deal, TXU, a Texas utility that has long been a target of environmentalists, will abandon plans to build eight old-style coal-burning power plants, which would have dumped huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”

TXU is subject to a takeover of US$45 billion from Texas Pacific whose co-founder David Bonderman is an ardent environmentalist who used influential environmental groups to help in negotiating the deal. The New York Times points out that there are 159 new coal-fired power plants on the drawing boards in the US and only 32 of these are considering technologies that could significantly reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.

There are several interesting aspects to this deal. The offer is from private equity Companies whose stated motive is to clean up TXU (clean up in more ways than one!)

Texas Pacific used a group of advisors they called the Green Group which included former President Jimmy Carter. They employed Goldman Sachs as advisors and their former CEO was Chair of Nature Conservancy. Other environmental groups had threatened litigation if TXU had persisted with its plans and presumably had the finance to make the threat real.

The good news is that private equity deals can be used for good in contrast to asset stripping. There are influential financial people who have accepted the climate change message and are not waiting for the US Government to act. Powerful environmental groups can play a major role is shaping capitalisms future – if we are to continue with this model.

The Bad News

This is not from the US but from Queensland and is perhaps a throwback to the mores of Uncle Jo. In a recent case before the Queensland Land and Resources Tribunal, the Queensland Conservation Council and the Mackay Conservation Group lodged objections to Xstrata’s mining lease at its Newlands coal mining operations. Objections were based on concerns about greenhouse gas emissions associated with the mining, transport and use of coal from the proposed mine, the effects of greenhouse emissions on global warming, and the effect that global warming might have on the Queensland environment. The Conservation Council sought to impose a condition on the mining lease that emissions be avoided, reduced or offset. Ian Lowe was one witness for the Conservation Council.

The Tribunal dismissed the action because it was not satisfied that there was a demonstrated causal link between the mine’s GHG emissions and any harm or environmental impact caused by global warming. In making this decision the Tribunal questioned the veracity of the Stern Report and disagreed with factual data from the 4th IPCC report
The decision is detailed at so you can make up your own mind. It will be seen that the Tribunal quoted extensively but selectively from the 4th IPCC report to question whether global warming was occurring. There is no reference as to who made this assessment for them or indeed their scientific qualification to be able to assess this information for themselves. Indeed it was not possible to find their identity and qualifications from Tribunal’s site.
The health aspects of coal mining and combustion have been detailed in the DEA “An Energy Policy for Australia”. Governments are beginning to address the sequestration of carbon dioxide and this should be supported as long as it does not detract from the need to act NOW on energy conservation and the development of renewable energy. It is not an option to close coal mines and cause immediate loss of employment and social cohesion in large communities. However every expansion must be looked at critically and with the intent of offering alternative strategies. It would seem that this did not happen in Queensland. In other States, the expected emissions from coal mine expansions appear to be conveniently quarantined from statements about policy to reduce emissions.

In this widening debate, the views of the coal mining industry must be examined carefully along with all others and I commend you to look at two opposing five minute talks on ABC RN “Perspective”. The transcripts are at

(Bob Brown.)
(Mark O’Neill)

David Shearman