Bimblebox: bad news week
After all the waiting, submissions, monitoring of China's economic health and commodity prices, talk of less dependence on coal, and optimism for a cleaner energy future, the decision we've been dreading was announced last Friday. Queensland's Co-ordinator General approved Waratah Coal's Galilee Basin mega mine, which will destroy Bimblebox Nature Refuge.
Having considered the Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement, the CG is satisfied that the economic advantages of the mine outweigh the loss of biodiversity and laying waste of the land. Few people can be surprised at the outcome. Hoping against hope cannot undermine the grim reality that coal is still king in Queensland.
I have not read much of the Co-ordinator General's evaluation report of Waratah's EIS; mainly his conclusions about Bimblebox. He believes that BNR's fauna and flora ecological values can be found elsewhere in the desert upland bioregion; that BNR's conservation, educational and research values can be replicated in the proposed offset area; and, disappointingly, he quotes from the EIS's conclusion that
'The coal resource cannot be economically mined in this part of the Galilee Basin without access to the shallow coal seams underlining the BNR and that as a consequence of mining, the ecological integrity and conservation value of the BNR cannot be maintained.'
Finally, and chillingly, he states:
'On balance, I recognise the values of the BNR but do not consider them sufficiently high or unique that the project should not proceed in the interest of saving the BNR.'
If I were a cynic, I'd say the Co-ordinator General's decision is timed...
• so that voters receive 'good news' for Queensland's economy in the form of jobs creation* and royalties just before the Federal election;
• so that environmental concerns are smothered not only by the widespread Australian apathy towards green issues but also drowned out in the pre-election clamour for lower living costs and better balanced budgets;
• and in the hope that the ultimate decision, at Federal level, will be made by an LNP Environment Minister.
I'd also ask whether...
• the 'strict conditions' of approval that include the vacuous and unproven concept of offsetting require far more detail about exactly how monitoring the conditions will be managed and judged to be adequate, and by which independent body;
• all proposed mega mines in the Galilee Basin should be forced to share the same, one and only rail corridor to the coal-exporting point;
• EIS and SEIS assessment would not be better executed by a public servant not in the employ of the Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning, whose website admits that the CG role has evolved since its inception so that it concentrates more on facilitating private-sector infrastructure projects than public works. The CG's boss is Jeff Seeney, I would point out.
• instead of simplifying the argument down to jobs vs biodiversity, society should perhaps consider how regions in need of further economic development, such as northwest Tasmania, could be subsidised by all taxpayers and conservation elevated to a higher level than merely 'green tape'.
This weekend the resolve of many environmental activists and protest groups will be to strive even harder to raise the profile of Bimblebox, and try to ensure that designated nature reserves warrant some level of protection from mining or other development. We stand behind those who have worked so hard to maintain Bimblebox and fought so hard for its survival. Please help promote their cause by sharing this post.
* The Australian Institute, a progressive independent think tank, claims that Waratah's own economic impact statement concludes that more jobs will be lost, especially in manufacturing, agriculture and tourism, than created in the running of the mine (after the construction phase).