On Monday I attended the powhiri and opening morning of the hearing for the proposed Mangatawhiri Coal Mine at the Mangatangi Marae.
The hearing is between Glencoal (subsidiary of Fonterra) and the tangata whenua, local residents, Auckland Coal Action, Coal Action Network, the Green Party and others.
Fonterra want to open cast mine 700,000 tonnes of thermal coal for three of their milk powder factories on the Hauraki Plains. They plan to process the coal at another former mine site 9 kms away from the proposed new mine.
The hearing Commissioners have made it clear that they believe they can give no legal weight to submissions on climate change effects from the use of coal unless the Supreme Court decision on the relevance of climate change to the Denniston coal case is announced during this case.
And here we have the elephant in the room. Hence the spectre of the climate change elephant in the room who arrived in an elephant costume and sat amongst the submitters, the trunk hanging limply but unforgettably in the middle row. Not far away a woman sat holding a blow-up globe, clutching it as if the planet mattered.
This open cast mine is business as usual for Fonterra who see no reason to abandon cheap and dirty fuel on farm land that they mainly own. They say the noise won’t matter because the motorway already disrupts the quiet, and they claim they have the water quality issues, dust and other impacts well in hand. They are promising to turn the pit into a lake once it’s empty of coal and to make some of the area into an organic farm.
I have been meeting with the local farmers and lifestyle block owners who are really worried about coal dust effects on their families and local schools, especially children and people whose health is already compromised.
The hapu, Ngati Tamaoho, are opposed to the mine and are raising cultural issues as well as other concerns.
The case will take several weeks but unless the Supreme Court rules soon that climate change can be considered we cannot talk about the wider issues. The Fonterra lawyer says the RMA is just about physical effects; last time I read it we still have Part 2 Section 5 including social, cultural and economic wellbeing issues.
We also still have the elephant in the room going nowhere until we all start listening.