Community coal concerns need addressing: resource minister

A coal conference in the NSW Hunter Valley has heard that while the industry is facing a ‘storm’ over falling prices, it needs to reinforce its importance in the community.

The Hunter Valley coal chain conference organised by the Australasian Institute of Mining & Metallurgy was opened by Resources and Energy Minister Chris Hartcher, who told the gathering he acknowledged the ‘‘storm’’ facing the industry as prices and profits plummeted.

He said the government wanted ‘‘a successful, prosperous coal industry in NSW’’, and that  the community wanted a ‘‘well-regulated industry, addressing what is seen to be community concerns’’.

Hartcher said it was important for companies to be ‘‘out there in the community, reinforcing its importance’’, Newcastle Herald reported.

Mining consultant Bob McCotter said is was also up to the government to keep mining strong in the region.

McCotter, who is also a member of Planning Assessment Commission that determines coal project approvals on behalf of the Planning Minister, said it was ‘‘virtually impossible to get a win-win situation for everyone with mining’’.

‘‘There will always be winners and losers and I guess the government’s role is to maximise the wider benefits that accrue from mining while safeguarding to a reasonable extent the interests of those that are most adversely affected by our projects,’’ McCotter said.

McCotter pointed out that environmental activists and opponents of the sector were making great use of social media to marshal their campaigns.

Late last year, Head of NSW Minerals Council says the mining industry needs to better communicate with the community in order to maintain its social license to operate.

Speaking at the council’s environment and community conference in Wollongong, Stephen Galilee said resource company performances were continually being challenged via social media channels and that in many cases the sector needed to lift its game.

"We have genuine community concern about particular projects and that's always been the case for mining and for other industries, but we also as an industry are increasingly facing deliberate opposition by activists who are opposed to mining, and no amount of best practice on community or environmental activities are going to satisfy them.

"That is a reminder to us as an industry … that we need to be constantly lifting our game, because we're working in an environment where people are actively working to undermine our relationships with the community and with government."

Air quality in the Hunter has been an issue for residents for some time now as coal mining and haulage activity increased in the region.

Community groups in the Hunter Valley have long protested against the coal industry, calling for tighter environmental and dust control in the region.

One such group, The Coal Terminal Action Group, has raised funds to buy its own industry-standard air quality monitoring equipment and plans to install the system at 10 locations between Newcastle and Rutherford.

“Communities in the Hunter Valley are increasingly worried about coal dust and its health impacts, especially with new coal mines and terminals,’’ Coal Terminal Action Group spokesman James Whelan said.

While in January, more than 100 local Hunter Valley residents unanimously voted to halt all coal mining expansions and developments surrounding the Upper Hunter town of Jerry’s Plains.

According to the group Rising Tide:

“Local communities are resisting the coal rush at every step of the way, challenging new mines and port developments that place the profits of coal companies ahead of the public good.”

Image: hvccc.com

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