Kia ora koutou
It’s getting pretty busy out there across Aotearoa, with a lot of new groups springing up, with protests, submissions, scandals, layoffs, court decisions and company acquisitions. Activity is widespread, on so many fronts it’s almost difficult to keep up.
We say: kia kaha people, and we look forward to a very active summer.
What’s in this newsletter?
1. What’s coming up
2. Report from Wellington protest against Simon Bridges
3. Fonterra; also contaminated by coal
4. Meanwhile at Denniston: Bathurst update
5. Environment West Coast – GO West Coast: who are they?
6. Trials and Tribulations at the Mataura Lignite Briquette Plant
1. What’s coming up?
Saturday (Aug 24) in Chch: protest against Fossil fuel subsidies (350.org)
Protest about the $46,000,000 the government gives to the Fossil Fuel industry each year. This has increased 700% under the National Government.
Meet: 11 am Fendalton Park for a briefing
Walk: 50m to BP Fendalton, hand out fliers and a giant cheque
Bring: smiles for a family friendly outing.
For some inspiration some inspiration, see this movie:
Bidder 70, the film about US activist Tim de Christopher’s brave action in an auction room that landed him two years in prison, will be screened across the country in the coming weeks. Wellington’s screening was last night, to a packed audience, and rave reviews.
Nelson (coinciding with the AusNZIMM mining conference): 27 August, 7pm, Free House. Fundraiser for “Clean Energy Future” group
Dunedin: 27 August, Rialto Cinema 12.45 and 7pm Facebook Event page
Christchurch 19th September. Doors: 6:30, movie: 7pm. C1 lecture theatre, University of Canterbury.
Auckland won’t miss out, but details and dates TBC – keep checking the Oil Free Auckland facebook page.
September 1: Kiwis Connect: rallies at loss of democracy in NZ
Join a series of, as it says on the facebook page: “Nationwide rallies to unite Kiwis who are concerned about the loss of democracy occurring in New Zealand. Foreign control, corporate takeover of education, asset sales, GE food, pesticides, the health system, unsustainable farming and fishing, destructive mining, and the TTPA all have the common theme of destroying our future. Add to that the GCSB bill.”
So far there will be rallies in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Whangarei, Tauranga & Palmerston North. More may be added. Keep an eye on the website here.
2. Simon Bridges protest in Wellington: report from on the ground
On Thursday 2 August, 50 or so activists from the Keep the Coal in the Hole Network, Oil Free Wellington, 350.org.nz, the Green Party, the Mana Movement, and other groups opposed to the Government’s “mine it, drill it, dig it, burn it” agenda let Energy and Resources Minister and National Party poster boy Simon Bridges know in no uncertain terms that both he and his Government’s policies were deeply unpopular in Wellington on Thursday.
Bridges had come to the Terrace HQ of mining industry lobby group and mutual back-slapping society Straterra to “discuss how he sees the energy and resources portfolio evolving and his views on challenges facing the minerals industry.”
Those chanting outside Straterra’s HQ as he spoke left him in no doubt that a key ‘challenge’ is the refusal of most New Zealanders to acquiesce to the destruction of the Denniston Plateau, the pollution of our offshore waters due to oil spills, fracking, gold-mining under Waihi, and, in general, National’s wanton disregard for people, the environment, and the elephant in the room: climate change.
When the last back had been slapped and the last canape eaten, Simon Bridges’ handlers emerged to rush him to a waiting car. Bridges may have been surprised that protestors had waited for two hours in the rain to farewell him, because he didn’t look all that glad to see us – or to be reminded very loudly that Simon may say “mine”, but we say “ours”.
Get used to it, Simon. As long as your Government continues to promote such stupid, short-sighted and dangerous policies, you can expect strong, determined and high-volume opposition.
3. Fonterra: also contaminated by coal
While the Fonterra milk whey scandal continues to reverberate around the world, further denting our so-called 100% pure image, the company is continuing to go ahead with its proposed coal mine at Mangatawhiri, just south of Auckland, to drive the boilers to make milk powder.
Fonterra is wearing its arrogance on its sleeve by choosing to burn coal in the heat plants of their dairy factories, even when they have the option of using a renewable fuel – wood and wood waste – instead. In fact, Fonterra are New Zealand’s third largest domestic user of coal.
Monday August 26 will see the first day of resource consent hearing for a new coalmine Fonterra wants to open at Mangatawhiri, near Auckland, to fuel one of its dairy factories. They could use wood – but they choose to use coal.
The hearing is being hosted by the Mangatangi marae and will open with a powhiri (welcome) on to the marae at 8.30 am next Monday, 26 August. It would be good to see a crowd there on Monday to show Fonterra we are watching and we think it matters.
The first week of hearings will be taken up entirely by Fonterra (Glencoal is its subsidiary) and CANA and other objectors will be in the first week of September. We haven’t been given a date yet.
As well as CANA, submissions against the mine have come from Auckland Coal Action; Greenpeace ; Green Party; Ora Taiao (Climate and Health) and a large number of individuals. If you made a personal submission you have a right to be heard if you wish – if you didn’t tick that box and say you wanted to be heard you can still change your mind – contact email@example.com
Now, while Fonterra’s wrongdoing has been exposed and the company is on the defensive, is the right time to let the nation and the world know that Fonterra’s products aren’t just contaminated by dirty pipes – they are contaminated by Fonterra’s use of coal in its plants. Fonterra don’t like to listen – but at the moment, they don’t have much choice.
To find our more about Fonterra and coal, see Rosemary Penwarden’s eloquent post on our blog, calling on Fonterra to do this right thing and quit coal.
4. Meanwhile at Denniston – Bathurst update
The Environment Court has told Bathurst it can go ahead and mine the beautiful Denniston Plateau, subject to less stringent conditions than imposed in the first Environment Court decision, which is very bizarre, and Forest & Bird are looking into their legal options there.
Coal Action Network Aotearoa’s Kristin Gillies gave our views to The Greymouth Star (repeated in the NZ Herald) warning that occupations of the plateau cannot be ruled out.
There are still two outstanding court decisions before the mine can go ahead: a decision on whether to allow a Forest & Bird application for leave to appeal against a High Court decision that the Environment Court has to take into account the cumulative effects of the nearby Sullivan mine and Denniston mine all going on at once. Then there’s the Supreme Court decision on whether climate change should be taken into account.
There’s also a decision by DOC on an application by the company to widen the road up to the plateau to allow 92 truck movements a day (thanks to all who made submissions on this).
Meanwhile Bathurst’s latest financial results show the company really isn’t in a good state.
Some of you may have seen that Bathurst (through its subsidiary, Buller Coal) paid Scoop for a major series promoting coal on the West Coast, thinly disguised as an objective look at coal. By the fourth episode, we’d had enough, so asked Scoop for a “right of reply”, which they gave us. Keep an eye out for CANA’s response, which gives a great summary of where Bathurst is financially and responds to some of the company CEO, Hamish Bohannan’s very outdated arguments (he’s beginning to sound more like Don Elder every day).
The series is not yet finished, and we trust that Scoop is going to dedicate the last two pieces into looking at the devastating impact that coal has on the environment – and the shaky financial state of coal industries there, but let’s see.
Bathurst has now bought a new coal mine at Coaldale, in Canterbury. The company is desperate for an income stream to tide it over for the delays with Denniston, given that its Cascade mine on the West Cast is producing so little coal right now. The main customer for this thermal coal will be Fonterra.
5. Environment West Coast – GO West Coast: who are they?
Some of you may have been confused at reports citing a West Coast group called “Environment West Coast”. This is a local group started by a businessman, Grant Oldham who has contracts with Bathurst, in support of the company’s proposed mine at Denniston.
It is NOT the West Coast Environment Network, who are one of the parties taking the case to the Supreme Court arguing that climate change must been taken into account when consents for a mining application are considered.
Seems that others have also been confused by what Environment West Coast is, some thinking it is a local authority. So it has changed its name to Go West Coast. So now it will no doubt be confused with a tourist agency.
The organisation has been waging protests against Forest & Bird who are quite legitimately using the (perfectly legal) legal process to challenge the Denniston mine. Most interesting is a photo at the end of its letter to Forest & Bird: of John Key having a nice chat with the lobby group’s Chairman. We’ve not seen any similar cup of tea being shared with Forest & Bird.
6. Trials and Tribulations at the Mataura Lignite Briquette Plant
The Mataura briquette plant has been going through yet another ‘trial’ this month – hopefully its last. It would be nice to think that all the time, money and energy wasted thus far will finally cease. But we’re not holding our breath. This bad idea is dying a slow and painful death.
It is now more than a year since commissioning of the plant was supposed to occur, followed by an official “opening” – we anticipated something like Bill English’s famous “turning of the first sod” back in 2011.
But as we know last year was an annus horribilus for Solid Energy and no official opening occurred. For the briquette plant, 2013 is proving even worse than 2012.
Solid Energy took the “back seat” in February, leaving the running of the plant to their partner and owner of the technology, GTL Energy. By March our information was that the plant was not running 95-98% of the time. The problem of exploding briquettes was revealed, along with a few other issues like the fact that Southland’s low night time temperatures appeared incompatible with the briquette-making process.
CANA put in an Official Information Act request to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and learned that safety worries at the plant included smouldering lignite piles and acknowledgement of the significant risk of fire and explosion, leading to a series of upgrades. This included an entire overhaul of the electrical system, doubling the plant’s electrical cost.
We then heard that the plant needed a $1.6 million drying shed, and an increase in its water intake from 58,000 to 400,000 litres per day, presumably to dampen down the briquettes when they showed a propensity to explode. We also learned that the manufacturing of large sized “commercial” briquettes was not going ahead but that smaller sized “domestic” briquettes were still to be produced.
Meanwhile, the plant had another couple of managerial changes – the fourth manager is now in place, while neighbours estimate the number of full days the plant has been running is not much more than triple that number. We hear that solitaire is the game of choice for the North Dakota-trained plant workers at Craig Road.
An unsubstantiated load of briquettes has been spotted by an unnamed observer being dumped back at New Vale mine. The coal going back into the hole?
Trials began again on August 5, and this time it’s make-or-break, so to speak, for the briquettes. The plan is to run the plant continuously for fourteen days then make the decision whether to continue or mothball, but locals report little activity, as per usual. So far, local reports are that the plant has run intermittently, and the noise has brought complaints to the Council.
Mataura Valley Land Sales
Meanwhile an ODT report, “’No firm decisions’ on Solid Energy land” appears to have got lost in translation. The report is not correct in its extent of Solid Energy’s land holdings nor on some of that land’s location. Are Solid Energy up to their old tricks of only revealing some of the story? We look forward to the next fascinating instalment from the south.
Solid Energy’s Huntly layoffs
Solid Energy has now laid off 93 workers at its Huntly East mine. Solid Energy blames economics, falling global coal prices (and demand for coal), but the workers themselves blame mismanagement. Whichever way, it’s another sign that coal is a sunset industry.
7. News and resources: home and further afield.
There has been so much going on in the world of climate change, climate science and coal, that it’s difficult to get it all into one section. Here’s a snapshot
NZ climate change outloook
Scientific advisor to the PM, Sir Peter Gluckman, has released a snapshot of what NZ will look like in a warming world. And it’s not pretty. Here’s a link to all the stories on the report, and to the report itself.
And the Minister announces a weak target
As if he’d never read that report, Climate Change Minister Tim Groser has announced New Zealand’s new climate change target. This is a move to an “unconditional” target (ie not relying on any other country to go first), but it’s only half of the lowest unconditional target (10% or 20%) that our Government promised in Copenhagen, 2009. Gareth at Hot Topic calls it out for what it is: 100% useless. While Tim Groser says we are “doing our share”, let’s compare our target and action on climate change, for a second, with Denmark, a country with a similar emissions profile, size and population. They’re pushing ahead for a 40% cut by 2020.
100% Pure under attack internationally on climate and mining
To get a good readout of what the international community thinks of our climate policy (this was before the weak new target), the international climate policy website Responding to Climate Change has a good report on it all, saying we’re in a “climate change coma”.
Meanwhile The Guardian was aghast at John Key’s latest video promoting mining, and suggested a new name for the Government: Fellowship of the Drill.
Air pollution concerns lead to cancellation of China coal plant
The massive plant was supposed to be built in Shenzhen, close to Hong Kong, but has been cancelled due to air pollution concerns.
German electricity giant closes coal plants, citing competitive solar prices
Massive German power company RWE’s latest financial report makes fascinating reading. Solar power is driving coal off the market. Here’s a key quote from CFO Bernard Gunther’s presentation: “The strong expansion of renewables, photovoltaics in particular, has changed the market substantially – to our disadvantage. During peak load periods, photovoltaics are driving our gas-fired power stations in Germany and in neighbouring European countries out of the market. Their capacity utilisation has declined dramatically as a consequence, sometimes to below 10%… Added to that, prices for hard coal are declining. Both of these developments have caused a substantial drop in electricity prices in recent years, on the German wholesale market in particular.
Australia: delays on mining – and elections
In Australia, new Environment Minister Mark Butler has delayed a decision on whether to agree to one of the massive big mine proposals in Queensland: Kevin’s Corner, due to potential impacts on the water table. Here’s the Greenpeace press release about it. He’s also delayed a decision on whether dredging in an area in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Park to make way for building new coal ports at Abbott Point.
But with the Australian elections in full swing, it could be that an Abbott Government gets in, and with that would come inevitable fast-tracking of such schemes. Abbott’s climate policy has come under scrutiny, with an NGO there last week releasing a study showing it would cost the country billions more.
Finally, this little gem from the Sydney Morning Herald is worth a read:
“Australian coal industry in final stage of grief”
Climate Communications: talking about impacts on health
A very interesting piece in Time magazine: “Re-branding climate change as a public health issue” looks at how perhaps talking about the health issues of climate change may be more a more compelling argument to motivate action than talking about polar bears.
Drought and fracking: Texas towns run out of water
The terrible combination of long-running droughts and water extracted by the fracking industry has led to a water crisis in 30 communities in rural Texas. This should be a warning to all, in areas where more drought is expected in a warming world. Meanwhile France continues its ban on fracking altogether, after looking at the mess created in the US. The ban is being challenged by industry.
“The anti-fracking movement is now clearly a force in UK politics.”
We hope you all caught up with the great protests against fracking this week in the UK, where Green MP Caroline Lucas was arrested with a number of others. This piece in The Guardian talks about how this particular protest has raised awareness about fracking across the country. Inspiring.
There have been a number of local meetings around the country on offshore drilling, organised by the Green Party, promoting its “kiwi bid” action. But joined also by a growing number of Oil Free groups: Wellington, Otago, Auckland, West Coast. Look for them on facebook.
And Check out this great Marae Investigates documentary on deep sea drilling off Kaikoura, which describes the growing local opposition to Anadarko’s plans.
350 launches divestment campaign on Superfund.
Our friends at 350.org have launched a divestment campaign on superfund, after WWF released a very thorough investigation of the Superfund and ACC’s fossil fuel investments. The 350 campaign comes after Bill McKibben’s “do the maths” global tour where he’s urging people to divest from fossil fuels, to keep them in the ground in order to avoid dangerous climate change and keep global warming below 2degC. Take action here.