Mixed Greens: Coal Australia’s biggest polluter, says report

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Report names coal as lead cause of declining Oz air quality; Vic govt puts CSG on hold; Abbott climate policy ‘uncertain’; Solco to sell solar assets.

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A new federal government report has identified coal mining as the leading source of particle pollution in Australia, contributing to a dramatic decline in the nation’s air quality over the past decade. The National Pollutant Inventory report finds coal responsible for 380,000 tonnes of the total 830,000 tonnes of harmful tiny dust particles (PM10 toxins) emitted nationally in 2012-13, and names Queensland as the most polluted state, being home to eight of Australia’s highest-emitting coal mines.

“Particle pollution contributes to a range of cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses yet we have no national uniform legislation to protect the very air we breathe,” said Clean Air Queensland spokesman Michael Kane, who noted that coal burning for electricity generation was also adding to the “toxic load.” Kane said most of the nation’s worst coal mine emitters were found in central Queensland in the Bowen Basin.

The Hunter region in NSW was the next biggest contributor to declining air quality with 53,000 tonnes of PM10 toxins emitted in 2012-13 in the Singleton area alone, 96 per cent of this came directly from coal mining. The release of the data comes just days after a Cleaning the Air report found that 3000 Australians a year were dying as a direct result of air pollution.

In other news…

The Victorian government is putting the state’s the onshore gas sector on ice for 12 months, with state energy minister Russell Northe today set to knock back the approval of work plan applications for exploratory drilling activities until the community consultation process on coal seam gas is completed in late 2015. NGO Friends of the Earth has welcomed the Napthine government’s move, noting that it couldn’t risk having farmers blockade drilling operations – as we have seen in NSW – in an election year. “The Coalition needs to fully understand the implications of today’s decision,” said FoE campaigns coordinator Cam Walker. “Community concern will not go away. The next year will be used by the community to build its power to oppose any drilling that may be approved after the consultation process”.

The federal opposition has accused the Department of Environment of having no faith in the Abbott government’s Direct Action climate policy, despite committing more than $2.5 billion of taxpayer money for the scheme. A media release from shadow environment minister Mark Butler on Tuesday said that, when asked at a Senate Estimates Hearing on Monday about how much of the government’s 5% emissions reduction target Direct Action would achieve, department officials responded that they were unable to provide any certainty on its success, due the ERF’s design not having been settled. The department was also unable to answer specific questions about the design of the Emissions Reduction Fund, despite legislation having been released, funding allocated and the Government declaring its unwavering confidence in the policy.

Perth-based solar solutions company Solco has won shareholder approval for its plans to sell the majority of its remaining solar water pumping and PV assets, first flagged two months ago. The company said in March that its exit from the wholesale pumping and PV business would enable it to further reduce overheads and generate funds “to develop and expand on other opportunities in the market.” In a half-yearly report in December 2013, the company reported a 60 per cent drop in revenue, and pointed to the continuing contraction in the residential solar PV market as the key driver behind its new focus on integrating a solar finance offering.

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