ECO Conference shows unions and environmental groups are natural allies

Coal Action Network Aotearoa was well represented at the recent ECO (Environment and Conservation Organisations of Aotearoa New Zealand) Conference in Auckland – which saw environmentalists and the union movement further cementing a relationship which has grown increasingly close in recent years.

Just Transition panel at ECO Conference

Climate Justice Aotearoa has produced an excellent report of the conference on their website, which we have lightly adapted here:

This year’s ECO conference saw what Jeanette Fitzsimons of CANA described as a coming together of “natural allies”  with environmentalists and unions exploring the opportunities and challenges associated with realising a just transition for workers and communities here in Aotearoa.

“A just transition means moving to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy that maximises the benefits of climate action while minimising hardships for workers and their communities.” – Gary Cranston of Unite Union.

The panel began with an inspiring video presentation by Sean Sweeney from Trade Unions for Energy Democracy who introduced us to the work of TUED and provided us with many inspiring examples of alliances between environmental and worker’s movements.

Coal Action Network Aotearoa’s main contribution to Just Transition work in Aotearoa has been our Jobs After Coal: A Just Transition for New Zealand Communities report – you can read more about the report, and its reception, on our Jobs After Coal page.

Let’s keep this conversation going as we move on to making this just transition happen in the real world. You can contact the panelists as follows:

Sean Sweeney : Trade Unions for Energy Democracy : sweeneygli@gmail.com

Gary Cranston : Unite UnionClimate Justice Aoteraoa

Jared Abbott : First Union

Jeanette Fitzsimons : Coal Action Network Aotearoa

Sam Huggard : NZ Council of Trade Unions

The Government Is Trying To Classify Protests At Sea As Terrorism – Submit By Friday

There have been many famous seaborne protests in New Zealand’s history. Some of them – like the Moruroa ship visits – were even organised by the Government of the day. But the current National Government is trying to classify ship-borne protests as terrorism, and we only have until this Friday to say “No!”

Why should a group campaigning against new and expanded coal mines care about that? Although protests against nuclear ship visits might come to mind first when we think of seaborne protests – and indeed, the Government appears to be rushing this Bill through in advance of a planned US warship visit – New Zealnd has also seen seaborne protests against oil exploration and coal shipments in recent years.

What with the Government’s plans to expand deep sea oil drilling, its desire to increase coal exports, and the persistent blind eye it turns to illegal fishing, there is plenty of scope for seaborne protests.

So what’s the Government planning to do? Here’s the callout from our friends at Peace Action Wellington, including the worst features of the Bill and what changes we should ask for. We encourage everyone who wants to preserve the right to effective protest action against fossil fuels – and nuclear ship visits – to submit against this unwise and repressive Bill.

Peace Action Wellington: Call for Submissions Against the Maritime Crimes Amendment Bill

Parliament is currently considering amendments to the Maritime Crimes Act that introduces a new crime of “maritime terrorism”. It seems clear from the current draft of the Bill, and its timing, that it is intended to target protests against visiting warships planned for November this year. It will criminalise free speech and could target maritime workers. Submissions close on Friday 19 August so we need to act fast!

What’s the problem?
The big problem with the proposed law is Section 4. This is the main new “terrorism” clause and it says:

Sec 4 (1): If you are trying to get the government to do or not do something (like what most of politicians and activists are trying to do!), then you are guilty if:
(b)   You discharge from a ship any noxious substance that could cause damage. The new law doesn’t define what is “noxious” nor does it define what “damage” is.
(c)   You use a ship in a manner that causes damage.

Most worrying in the new law is that it is terrorism crime if you even threaten to do any of these things. This is Section 4(A)(2).

Its important to know that it is already illegal to cause damage to a ship or anything else; it is already illegal to intentionally cause injury or to act recklessly on the sea. It is already illegal to threaten to injure or kill someone, it doesn’t matter where you are. This law says that it is terrorism if you do any of those things to a ship with the motive of trying to influence the government. So if you damage a ship because you had a bad time on the last cruise you took, that’s fine. But if you damage a ship because it is carrying out widespread illegal fishing or helping to fight illegal wars then that is terrorism!

What is really important is that this law makes it a crime of terrorism just to TALK about doing something. This law would make it illegal for you to say that you were going to spray paint the side of the US warship visiting New Zealand with the words NO WAR; because they could say you were trying to influence the government not to host US warships. You don’t even need to do it! The penalty: 14 years in prison.  Back in 2003, someone spraypainted the side of a visiting Australian Navy ship with the words “John Howard: US Boot licker!” while it was docked in Wellington Harbour. This would now be a terrorism offence in New Zealand – not just a charge of intentional damage.

No Protections
There is no protection in this law for peaceful protests, strikes, lockouts or any other industrial action.

Even in the Terrorism Suppression Act, there is a specific provision that says:
To avoid doubt, the fact that a person engages in any protest, advocacy, or dissent, or engages in any strike, lockout, or other industrial action, is not, by itself, a sufficient basis for inferring that the person is carrying out an act for a purpose, or with an intention or intends to cause an outcome.

What we can do
Let’s build a groundswell of opposition to this law and demand important changes before its too late.

Make a Submission – Online before FRIDAY, 19 August

Tell Parliament:

  • Section 4 is simply not good enough, it lacks appropriate definitions and has no proper safeguards
  • That the the definition of damage must be significantly limited:To destruction of, or serious damage to, property of great value or importance, or major economic loss, or major environmental damage, if likely to result in 1 or more outcomes:

(a) the death of, or other serious bodily injury to, 1 or more persons (other than a person carrying out the act):
(b) a serious risk to the health or safety of a population:
(c) serious interference with, or serious disruption to, an infrastructure facility, if likely to endanger human life:

It MUST include an exception that a person who engages in any protest, advocacy, or dissent, or engages in any strike, lockout, or other industrial action, is not, by itself, a sufficient basis for inferring that the person— is carrying out an act for a purpose, or with an intention to cause any outcome specified in this Bill.

What’s Going On At Stockton?

Failed state-owned coal company Solid Energy may no longer be hitting the headlines, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on – far from it. And the consequences may be very serious.

Our sources on the West Coast tell us that between 15 and 20 groups of potential buyers, mainly from India, have been through Solid Energy’s big Stockton mine there.

We also know that Bathurst Resources, the Australian coal mining company that fled Australia and set up in New Zealand, and which has managed to make a fearful mess of the unique and biodiverse Denniston Plateau in the course of a largely failed attempt to extract coal from it at an economic price, is trying to buy Stockton.

Work on the Denniston Plateau has now stopped.

Work on the Denniston Plateau has now stopped – but the destruction wrought by Bathurst Resources remains.

Republic Investment Management of Singapore recently bought a 20% stake in Bathurst Resources, and they are seeking to acquire more, possibly with a view to taking a controlling interest. This has allowed Bathurst to raise funds in relation to “an impending NZ coal opportunity”, which we believe may be the attempted purchase of Stockton and other coal deposits which Solid Energy has the rights to but has not attempted to mine.

As the industry mouthpiece NZ Resources notes (24 June 2016), “for coal in NZ this is fire sale season”.

On one level, that’s a good sign: it reflects the parlous state of the coal industry both domestically and internationally, and the growing acknowledgment that King Coal, bruised and weakened but still dangerous, must be prised off his throne.

But fire sale season carries a high risk: with the backing of their mystery overseas investors, Bathurst – or one of the companies that has toured Stockton – might be able to take advantage of those fire sale prices to sweep up a bundle of former Solid Energy assets and bundle them with its own resources, such as the nearby Denniston mine.

Bundling Stockton, Happy Valley (adjacent and now being mined), the Escarpment mine on Denniston, and the proposed Te Kuha would create an asset large enough to interest a big overseas miner. Then, taking a cavalier approach to the environment and worker safety alike (as the record shows occurs in India), they might seek to claw what coal they can from the ground while there is still a buck to be made.

Whereas the coal industry in China has been in decline in recent years, in India , coal is still trying to expand. If we are not vigilant, we might end up with a future in which Indian steel mills and cut-rate New Zealand milk powder plants alike are supplied by coal made cheap enough to mine by Solid Energy’s past recklessness and the Government’s continued avoidance of real action on climate change.

This story has been hiding away in the shadows. It’s time for it to be brought into the light.

Fonterra Ignores the Big Picture

By Rosemary Penwarden

The decision by ECAN and WDC to allow Fonterra to keep on expanding, adding a new 30-tonne/hour coal-fired boiler to their Studholme milk processing plant near Waimate, reminds me of my Dad’s driving.

Fonterra Quit CoalWhen I was a kid we occasionally drove from Wanganui to Lower Hutt to visit cousins. With Dad behind the wheel it was Lower Hutt or Bust. Even a toilet stop required dire ultimatums to get the car to slow.

When Mum was behind the wheel, variables were appraised, the big picture assessed and the agenda adjusted accordingly. More often than not, that meant stops at every vegetable stand, regular side-of-the-road picnics and occasionally, much to Dad’s chagrin, detours to a stream for a quick dip before hitting the road again.

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Auckland Coal Action: Activists carry out Waikato coal mine inspection, leave climate message

A group of eight activists from Auckland Coal Action, many of them grandparents, have carried out an inspection of Solid Energy’s Kopako 1 coal mine in the Waikato to protest its redevelopment, and left a climate change message for the company.

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The mine, near Maramarua, in North East Waikato, has been dormant since the 1990s, but Solid Energy has now begun work to revive it.  The team confirmed after walking into the site that not only has overburden been removed, but coal mining from a seam has begun.

“Solid Energy is undertaking extensive development of this old coal mine, despite having no customers for the coal, and the international industry being in terminal decline,” said one of the activists, Geoff Mason of Auckland Coal Action.

“Meanwhile, the Government has signed the Paris Agreement which means that we have to get out of coal by 2050, globally, which means coal like this has to stay in the ground.

The team walked into the mine site, and spent around an hour at the coalface, wrapping a excavator in “climate crime scene” tape confirming that new mining has removed the overburden and is now digging up coal. They deployed signs and banners, before leaving again.

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Among the activists who inspected the mine today was Phil, a great grandparent.

“I am seriously concerned about a climate changed future for my five great grandchildren – this is why I am here today, to tell Solid Energy and the Government to stop wasting taxpayers’ money, and keep the coal in the hole,” she said.

Auckland Coal Action is also concerned that one of the potential customers for the mine could be Fonterra, the country’s second-largest user of coal.  Fonterra was planning to open its own coal mine at nearby Mangatawhiri, but has put those plans on permanent hold.

“Solid Energy might be eyeing Fonterra as a potential customer, but Fonterra should be looking at changing its energy source to renewable wood and biomass rather than coal,” said Geoff Mason.

“What is clear is that this mine should be kept out of commission – for the climate, for the local environment and for our future.”

Check out more photos from the action, and watch this video in which Nick from Auckland Coal Action explains what’s on the line:

Fonterra coal boiler decision “ridiculous”

PRESS RELEASE

Death Star 15The decision to let Fonterra build a massive, coal-fired boiler in South Canterbury is a blow for the climate and a sustainable future, and flies in the face of any regard for our grandchildren, Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA) said today.

Environment Canterbury and Waimate District Council today gave the go-ahead for Fonterra’s planned 30-tonne/hour coal-fired boiler at its Studholme factory just outside of Waimate.

According to an expert witness for CANA (1), this would have to see an increase in the South Canterbury/North Otago dairy herd of 270,000 cows, in order to provide enough milk to feed the factory.

In May, in the face of what it called “strong opposition,” Fonterra cut its plans back to one boiler instead of two.

“Even one new coal boiler will over-extend the environmental capacity of the area,” said Rosemary Penwarden, a grandmother, of CANA.  “We are extremely disappointed that the Commissioners didn’t take the wider impact of the plant into account in their decision – the region can’t take it.
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Chch council should drop climate deniers from expert review panel

PRESS RELEASE

The Christchurch City Council should drop the two climate deniers it recently appointed to a new panel to re-review a coastal hazards report,  Coal Action Network Aotearoa said today.

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Christchurch City Council illustration of sea level rise

As part of its district plan, the council commissioned the engineering firm Tonkin Taylor to estimate the impacts of a sea level rise of around 40cm over the next 50 years, and one metre in 100 years.

After loud local protest from potentially affected residents,  the council has appointed a new panel to conduct a second peer review of the report.  But that panel now has two well-known climate science deniers on it:  Kesten Green and Willem de Lange, whose history of climate denial has been set out on the Hot Topic blog.   Continue reading