Bathurst Resources, an Australian company backed by Chinese money, has secured consents for an Escarpment mine on the Denniston plateau near Westport, with numerous groups outraged by the decision and Green Party climate change campaigner Kennedy Graham calling it “the most egregious example yet of ignorant decision-making in our national energy development”.
Three independent commissioners conducted a hearing in Westport over June to consider resource consent applications under the Resource Management Act. But in releasing their report, even the commissioners appear torn, saying the consent was granted “not without some considerable reservations and anguish”.
At the time of the June hearing, Bathurst defended its desire for an open-cast mine on the West Coast by saying it would create 400 jobs and inject $200 million into the West Coast economy. In an interview on TVNZ's Breakfast, Buller District mayor Pat McManus echoed that sentiment, saying the mining operation had the potential to lead New Zealand out of the recession.
But according to Graham, the Green Party can find 424 green jobs and $41 million in wages that are socially and environmentally sustainable for the West Coast.
West Coast-based Green MP Kevin Hague said we need to invest in a new economy for the coast and that real economic solutions can be derived from creating “smart, green solutions that keep profits on the Coast and in New Zealand”.
“Rather than investing in the old West Coast economy of mining, we should look to the future and invest in green jobs that bring value to the people and the environment of the coast,” he said.
Graham said the decision to allocate the consent highlights inadequacies with the consent hearings process in the 21st Century, with too much focus placed on "short-term material benefit of employment and financial earnings”.
“They ignore the countervailing medium-term health costs and the long-term economic stress of dangerous climate change, both of which far outweigh the illusory short-term gains.”
West Coast Environment Network (WECN) said the decision fails biodiversity.
“The proposed damage to ecosystems and permanent loss of this stunning landscape, all on public conservation land, cannot be compensated for,” said spokesperson Karen Mayhew.
While the Commissioners granted the consent for this mine, they did not grant the 35-year term sought for the coal processing plant.
"The Commissioners were troubled by the large-scale and long-term destruction envisaged by the coal miner, and the lack of options to mitigate the loss. Their decision has clearly been compromised by the Department of Conservation withholding from the hearing the detailed scientific evidence that it has gathered on the impacts of the proposed mine,” said Mayhew.
In June WECN said it had obtained technical reports from the Department of Conservation released under the Official Information Act, stating that the mine would create industrial enclaves within a large area of public conservation land, destroy and fragment intact vegetation associations, and perpetuate the decline of rare and endangered species. WCEN says the reports also confirm that restoration of this nationally significant ecosystem back to its original state would be impossible.
Meanwhile the Coal Action Network (CAN) has said that if we have any chance in avoiding “climate catastrophe”, coal needs to kept in the hole.
“We call on people across the country to join the campaign to Keep the Coal in the Hole,” said CAN spokesperson Frances Mountier. “This mine would destroy 200 hectares of a nationally significant ecosystem - when just last year, people across the country clearly said ‘no’ to mining on conservation land.”