The Minister of Conservation has allowed Australian owned Bathurst Resources Ltd access to conservation land on the Denniston Plateau to build open cast coal mine. This beautiful landscape with many rare species will be ripped open for coal if the Bathurst also obtain resource consents. The Environment Court final decision on this is due next week.
Nick Smith announced his decision under the old Crown Minerals Act and his interpretation of his conservation responsibilities. He made sure he didn’t have to run a public consultation process which the new Crown Minerals Act requires for significant applications like this one.
The West Coast people who are welcoming the decision are understandably desperate given the collapse of Solid Energy. They hope the jobs will save their economy, but as every coal mining based community in the world should know, the jobs cannot be relied upon. Meanwhile the Denniston Plateau is at huge risk.
I visited there last month and was deeply affected by the beauty, biodiversity, history, ecology and opportunity which will be lost if the open cast mine goes ahead. This plateau could be a mecca for historical and ecological tourism.
Nick Smith claims the small underground mines around the edge of the plateau have left some mess, and he is correct. But those small shafts and small heaps of rusty machinery are nothing compared to the effects of the proposed open cast Escarpment Mine and the proposals for further mines which will inevitably follow.
The huge elephant in this room is the fact that climate change is not being considered in the decisions around Denniston. Coal mining is a sunset industry and fossil fuels are on the way out. We can develop alternatives to coking coal in the steel production process but not overnight and not without a genuine investment. Meanwhile instead of grasping this challenge and the necessity for change, the Government is facilitating the destruction of one of the most extraordinary places in our country.