Coal Action Network Aotearoa Newsletter October 2013

Things are hotting up around here, both with the weather (in more ways than one) and activism on a number of fronts. Our big news is our new divestment campaign against Westpac for funding Bathurst and its proposed mining of the Denniston Plateau.

Kia Ora Koutou
We’ve got other good news about the mothballing of the lignite projects in Southland - and some not so good news on Fonterra’s proposed coalmine at Mangatawhiri and the Supreme Court decision on whether climate change can be considered in decisions about coal mines.

Given that the IPCC has just released the first bit of its Fifth Assessment, and the lack of coverage in NZ media, we have dedicated a big chunk of this update to summarizing the latest climate science, and also have a quick look at the campaigns against climate science.

We look forward to a summer of solidarity against fossil fuel development – check out the oil free summit in Dunedin in January.

  • the CANA team

Whats in this newsletter

  1. Westpac: dump Denniston!
  2. Mataura Mothballed
  3. Our Right to Reply on Scoop's coal promotion (paid for by Bathurst)
  4. Disappointing decision on the Supreme Court
  5. Fonterra gets consent for Mangatawhiri mine
  6. Is this what the phase-out of coal looks like?
  7. TPPA pressure builds
  8. the IPCC's scary science: update and resources
  9. NZ's glaciers melting at unprecedented rate
  10. Oil Free Future Summit, Dunedin, January

1. Westpac: dump Denniston!

This week, CANA and 350 Aotearoa launched our new campaign against Westpac, which is providing finance and loans to Bathurst Resources so it can turn the beautiful Denniston Plateau into an opencast mine, resulting, ultimately, in around 218 million more tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

On Tuesday, a small team of us took bags of coal, a big banner, and a letter to the CEO of Westpac, Peter Clare at his office in downtown Auckland, asking him to live up to the bank’s apparent “sustainability” policy by dumping Bathurst – and Denniston – from its books.

The campaign is CANA’s contribution to the wider divestment campaign, kicked off after 350’s Bill McKibben toured New Zealand talking about the “Carbon Maths”, a campaign that is based on the fact that if we burn all the fossil fuel reserves sitting on the books of oil, coal and gas companies, the planet will face a global warming nightmare.

What can you do? First off, go to this website and send a letter to Mr Clare.

Secondly, share the campaign, tell your family, your friends and your workmates about this campaign so that Mr Clare becomes only too aware of the problems this relationship will cause his bank. You’ll also be able to download the leaflets from there.

Given that most of you will live relatively close to a Westpac branch, there’s a lot of communication with the bank and its customers that you can do.
Watch out for updates on events in your area. (Wellingtonians: expect a separate email this week on this subject).

Wider Divestment campaign update

In the wider world of divestment campaigning, there’s been a lot going on. 350 have also launched a campaign asking the Superfund to divest from fossil fuels. But the great news is that all five of the Anglican Church dioceses have decided to divest from fossil fuels. We have a blog on all the details.

2. Mataura mothballed!

When our campaign to stop the mining of the Mataura Valley lignite began, this is the picture we faced:

From 2012 onwards and working around the clock, Solid Energy was to process 150,000 tonnes of lignite annually to produce 90,000 tonnes of briquettes at their Craig Road “pilot” plant. 
By 2014, a few months’ from now, the ten times bigger plant was to be pumping out one million tonnes of briquettes for export. 
Across the valley and a couple of years down the road in 2016, two million tonnes of lignite per year would be converted into 1.2 million tonnes of urea.
Two more monstrous plants by 2019 would have completed the picture, producing 85,000 barrels of diesel per day.
The green, fertile Mataura Valley converted to an industrial wasteland, adding more than 9 million tonnes or over twenty percent to our national carbon dioxide emissions. Middle Earth’s own manmade Mordor.

From the beginning, some local people saw the madness for what it was. When Solid Energy bought up the valley farms one by one, neighbours sworn to secrecy through confidentiality clauses, they resisted. They went to meetings, asked the tough questions, battled the intimidation and stood their ground.

Eventually others from around New Zealand joined in the campaign to stop the destruction and in January 2012 the first Keep the Coal in the Hole Summer Festival was held on Mike Dumbar’s property just down the road from the briquette plant site.

Those of us gathered from other parts of New Zealand learned what it was like for the locals living with the threat of this nightmare on their boundary. From the festival new groups grew, including Coal Action Murihiku, who planned and held the second Summer Festival – “We Have Options” - at Dolomore Park, Gore, one year later.

The briquette plant was built but not going to plan from the beginning. Festival goers offered the plant operators a packet of mothballs but they did not take our hint, at least not for another eight months.

But at last, the 15 October 2013 news from the Mataura valley is all good. Solid Energy and partner in crime GTL Energy will finally mothball the smelly noisy $29 million briquette plant on Craig Road. A final decision will be made on October 24, but we’re confident it will be closed for good.

Diesel, urea and a ten times bigger briquette plants are a long distant nightmare. The lignite will stay in the ground where it belongs. Nine million tonnes of carbon dioxide will be kept out of the atmosphere. We can thank Don Elder and his expansionist tendencies for his part in the outcome, but congratulations for a job well done are due to our tireless Southland campaigners, especially Mike, Joe and Robina and Alan who refused to sell, and the other members of CAM who worked so hard to see this day

Great blog from Gareth Hughes, Green MP who has been supporting our campaign from the outset.

Some of Solid Energy's past promises:

September 2009: Solid promises 500 jobs from lignite to Urea

February 2011: Solid Energy promises lignite projects worth $1.5 billion a year

September 2011: Briquetting plant: Solid promises 85 full time positions (now down to one, with three jobs lost this week)

All in all it’s just another briquette in the wall (a bit of recent history at the Mataura plant)

10 August: short three day run completed. Steam seen rising above plant. Briquettes notably absent. Noise complaints laid. Drums changed and bearings moved from large to small briquette production; that there was only one set of bearings suggests engineering problem.

Our source was told not to expect fourteen days of continuous running. Instead, runs would be short, in an effort to produce a satisfactory product, and not indicative of success or failure. New manager did not appear overly hopeful.

19 August: boiler started up first thing, continued through the night of 20 August, stopped on the evening of 21 August. Loud bang heard; planned three day run incomplete. Three noise complaints laid and two emails sent to Gore District Council.

2 September boiler started up. That evening dross noted pouring from conveyor. Plant stopped some time during the night of 4 September. Evidence of briquettes notably lacking; planned three day run incomplete.

18 September: Mataura Volunteer Fire Brigade called to briquette plant to extinguish fire in ducting leading from hopper. Upon arrival fire already extinguished by garden hose and smouldering. Fire thought to be due to dust.

15 October: Press Release from Solid Energy/GTL Energy: Briquette plant mothballed. COAL TO STAY IN HOLE.

Hey, English, leave our coal alone!

3. Our Right to Reply on Scoop’s coal promotion

Cast your minds back to July and August when Scoop ran a string of no less than four articles about West Coast coal, which was a shameless promotion of Bathurst and its CEO Hamish Bohannan.

Bathurst, through its subsidiary, Buller Coal, paid for the series. While Scoop argues that it had negotiated a careful protocol of independence for this series, we saw no evidence that they sought a single alternative voice. So we approached them ourselves and negotiated this right of reply, written by Kristin Gillies.

And while Scoop prefaces our article with this statement “The following opinion piece was solicited from the Coal Action Network” this was absolutely not the case: we had to go to them with the idea. The good news is that while Scoop says they had a “six part series” lined up, they ended up writing only four articles.

4. Disappointing decision at the Supreme Court

After a wait of more than 6 months the Supreme Court finally issued its decision that climate change cannot be considered in resource consents under the RMA.

The case arose when the Environment Court, considering Bathurst's application for consents to establish an open cast coal mine on the Denniston plateau, disallowed any evidence on the inevitable climate changing effects of that coal once it was out of the ground. West Coast Environment Network joined by Forest & Bird appealed.

At issue was the meaning of a 2004 amendment to the RMA saying that climate change could not be considered in applications for an air discharge consent - which this was not. However, the Environment Court, then the High Court, and now the Supreme Court have all decided that despite that, the overall intent of the amendment was to take climate change away from local councils and have it dealt with by central government.

While we are disappointed, it was some consolation that this was not a unanimous decision. The Chief Justice, Sian Elias, dissented and found in our favour - that the amendment should not be interpreted as widely as the others did but confined to air discharges. However the majority of three other justices prevailed. Who knows what might have happened if Justice Sir Robert Chambers, who had asked very intelligent and informed questions during the hearing in March, had not died so tragically after hearing the case but before the decision was made?

We can be sure that from now on the courts will rule out any consideration of climate change at consent hearings until the law is changed. However, what we really need is strong climate change policy at central government level with a substantial price on carbon, rather than the derisory ETS. Then we wouldn't have to argue it case by case at the Environment Court.

We are very grateful for the expert help of Sir Geoffrey Palmer in the Environment Court and Davey Salmon and Duncan Currie, along with Forest & Bird's lawyer Peter Anderson, in the higher courts.

5. Fonterra gets consent for Mangatawhiri mine

The hearings panel has just issued its consent for Fonterra's proposed coal mine at Mangatawhiri, south of Auckland.

It hinged on finding that the adverse effects the residents were concerned about - heath and quality of life impacts from dust, noise, water abstraction and discharge, destruction of landscape values and traffic, would be minor. The residents, of course, disagree but Fonterra could afford lots of expensive expert witnesses to say everything could be mitigated satisfactorily, and these were given more weight than the residents' concerns. That's how the RMA works.

The residents living closest to the pit generally submitted in favour of the mine after reaching an "arrangement" with Fonterra. This meant the effects on them did not have to be considered, and made it possible to conclude that the effects would be minor. Too bad if those properties change hands during the life of the mine and, indeed, good luck to their owners who try to sell them.

The panel acknowledged CANA's expert submission from John Gifford showing that wood waste was available that could substitute for coal in their milk drying plants, making the mine unnecessary. However they decided they didn't need to consider this further because, in their view, the mine would do so little harm they didn't need to think about alternatives.

The climate elephant attended throughout the first week, drawing attention to the legal prohibition on arguing what really matters - the contribution of the mine to climate change. Our oral submissions can be found here.

While we didn't stop the consent, CANA believes the effort was well worthwhile as, thanks to the help of John Gifford, we now have a well-researched piece of work that has not been challenged, that shows the feasibility of wood waste as an alternative to coal. Fonterra's evidence showed that they have already done some work on alternative fuels and we are confident that, faced with this evidence, they will eventually have to continue down this path.

6. Is this what the phase out of coal looks like?

Read Jeanette Fitzsimons’ blog on the restructuring and refinancing of Solid Energy:

“Here we have the largest coal company in the country shrinking its operations, seriously strapped for cash. Coal prices have slumped and are unlikely to recover soon. Underground mining is uneconomic, even for high quality coking coal, hence the closure of Spring Creek and Huntly East. Annual production is down by nearly half a million tonnes: that’s over a million tonnes less carbon dioxide. The lignite stupidities are a distant memory except for one briquetting plant which doesn’t work and has been written off in the company’s books.”

7. TPPA pressure builds

Tim Jones has written a blog on our website summarizing the latest on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement that John Key seems hell-bent on signing on our behalf, without anyone in New Zealand (except big business) having laid eyes on its terms and conditions. Check out the details and take action to tell the Government we don’t want a bar of it.

8. The IPCC’s scary science: update

On 27 September, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the first of the four reports of its Fifth Assessment, which happens once every five or six years.

Working Group 1 looks at the scientific basis of climate change. As usual, the New Zealand media haven’t covered the story much at all (and some of them got it wrong), so here’s a quick summary:

Human influence on the climate system is “extremely likely” to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. 
Warming of the climate system is “unequivocal,” and, since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.
Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer than any previous decade since 1850.
 Changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed since about 1950, such as an increase in the number of warm days and nights -  and a decrease in the number of cold days and nights; an increase in the frequency of heat waves in large parts of Europe, Asia and Australia, and an increase in the regions that experiences heavy precipitation events. [note: NZ had our warmest winter on record this year.]
The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the average rate at any time in the last 2000 years. 
Most of the energy added to the climate system has been stored in the ocean, which has warmed – accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010. 
Limiting climate change will mean the world has to undertake substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. 
Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stoppe
 The IPCCC introduced, for the first time, a “carbon budget” – the amount of emissions we are allowed to pump into the atmosphere to have a 66% likelihood of keeping global warming to 2°C. In total, the IPCC calculated that figure at a total of 1000Gigatonnes of Carbon (GtC). Take away 200GtC for non-C02 forcings (methane, etc). By 2011, we had already emitted around 531 billion tonnes of that. So we’re only allowed to emit another 270 billion tones. At current rates, this gives us about 25-30 years. 

…. and what was our Government’s reaction?

“New Zealand is committed to doing our fair share without imposing excess costs on households and businesses, while the Government focuses on jobs and strengthening our recovery,” says our Climate Change Minister, as the Government continues in its quest to dig up as many of the remaining fossil fuel reserves we have in New Zealand.

Very useful resources on the IPCC:
“The Tree” (Global Campaign on Climate Action”) has produced a great resource: their summary of the report with a lot of links tweets and rebuttals to denier nonsense, plus a Regional Breakdown.

9. NZ glaciers melting at unprecedented rate & book tour

Climate scientist Jim Salinger has just released his new book: “Living in a Warming World”.

Some of the news in the book is startling: that our glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate: 14% from 2008-2012. This is almost as much as the previous 31 years from 1977-2008. By 2100 we may have only 10% of the ice in our glaciers left. See the NZ Herald’s coverage of the glacier story and a Q&A by Jim about the rest of the book.

He will be on tour around the country over the coming weeks.

10. Oil Free Future Summit, Dunedin, January

Hosted by Oil Free Otago, the Oil Free Future Summit will coincide with Anadarko’s planned deep sea exploratory well off our coast. The plan is to show Anadarko and the Government the strong local and national opposition to deep sea drilling in New Zealand’s EEZ. It will be a weekend of art, socialising, talking and action.

Friday evening: art exhibition by local artists: “OIL ON CANVAS”.
Saturday: talks from experts and those closest to the issue, nationally and internationally. The famous “MESS WITH TEXAS” gig will rock the town on Saturday night.
Sunday: church service emphasising the link between deep sea drilling and climate change, the most pressing moral issue of our time.

The rest of Sunday will be a family day of action on our beautiful Otago harbour.

The summit is our contribution to the national campaign against deep sea drilling in NZ. If you can help, we would be stoked! Please email us with any offers of assistance, from funding to organising, or if you would like to get involved in planning, have some cool ideas or just want to find out more, we’d love to hear from you. Email oilfreefuturesummit@gmail.com. Bank account details are on the website:

11. Don Lamont: obituary

Coal Action Network Murihiku’s co-cordinator, Dave Kennedy, writes a moving obituary to Don Lamont, a Southland environmental hero and active member of CAM, who died late last month. He would have been so happy to hear the news from Mataura this week.

12. Other news and resources

Dealing in Doubt: a history of climate denial

CANA’s Cindy Baxter has updated her report for Greenpeace on the history of attacks by the climate denial machine on climate science, scientists and the IPCC. “Dealing in Doubt” starts in the early 1990’s and shows the links between the tobacco industry and early climate science denial, and takes it through to the present day. It was released just ahead of the IPCC report, so doesn’t have the ongoing attacks on the latest report, but it’s a handy reference to the history.

She’s also written a blog as to how to deal with a climate denier for a youth activist training, which some of you might find useful.

ODT on the decline of the coal industry

The Otago Daily Times’ Simon Hartley has written a good summary of where the coal industry is at:

“New Zealand’s mining sector is haemorrhaging tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs, reflecting the billions of dollars and thousands of jobs already lost in Australia.”

Meanwhile New Zealand continues to get a hammering in the international media, with the latest story being this one at Climate Progress (a great source of international news stories on climate).

Seabed mining application imminent

Our friends at Kiwis Against Seabed mining advise that the first application for mining ironsands off the seabed – in South Taranaki – is expected to be lodged with the EPA by Trans Tasman Resources next week.

This will be a major fight – important because of the precedent any consent would provide for the other companies waiting to mine the sea bed up the entire west coast of the North Island.

Sign up to be advised of the submissions process and to keep in touch with those issues at the KASM website.

Cambell vs Bridges... if you haven’t seen it already

Take 15 minutes to watch John Campbell’s interview with Energy Minister Simon Bridges on Monday evening. But also make sure you watch the Campbell Live coverage of the concerns at Anadarko’s offshore drilling.

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