THE Latrobe Valley is set to lose out economically and environmentally to the State Government’s “immoral” ramp up of brown coal use, according to local and Melbourne-based environmental groups.
Latrobe Valley Sustainability Group spokesperson Dan Caffrey said he was “disgusted” by news the State Government was opening up “floodgates to such a polluting resource”, which he said was all about creating short term gains in an industry with “no long term future”.
Mr Caffrey said he was shocked to hear Latrobe City was backing the initiative, and expressed fears the ramp up in coal use would mean the Valley would become a landscape similar to the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, where he said residents were suffering from significant health issues as a result of large scale open cut coal operations.
“Latrobe City is trading off our liveability … just to become a quarry; they are really being negligent in the fact they are not looking comprehensively at the long term; it’s a lazy approach,” Mr Caffrey said, adding Gippsland’s future as a food production region was also being jeopardised.
“Our future is supposed to be clean, green food production, and you can’t have that next to giant open-pit coal mines.”
“I just think they are taking an easy way out; they are putting jobs over long term impacts, and are setting up for a very big collapse 15 to 20 years from now.”
Mr Caffrey said it was inevitable world markets would shift away from their dependence on fossil fuels, which would leave the Valley completely unprepared when its workforce was forced to shift to other industries.
“I’m just wondering where people’s mindsets are at, with all the evidence about (man made) climate change available; these are credible scientists and meteorologists; if people can’t see that in our council … it’s so shortsighted,” Mr Caffrey said.
However Latrobe City said use of the brown coal resource was only one aspect of its long term preparations, and diversification of the Latrobe Valley’s workforce to other industries was a cornerstone of its low carbon future transition plans.
Environment Victoria has also questioned the economic benefits of the State Government policy, which it says will be offset by the global markets’ inevitable departure from brown coal for power generation uses, despite the industry spruiking its ability to lower emissions through clean coal technology.
EV campaign director Mark Wakeman said the last coal allocation in 2002 to three separate companies had not created a single job in the Latrobe Valley.
“People in the Latrobe Valley have heard it all before … I think (people in the Latrobe Valley) are getting sick of these hollow promises around clean coal,” Mr Wakeham said.
He dismissed a prediction made by the Minerals Council of Australia that the State Government strategy would create a boom industry in the Latrobe Valley, similar to the black coal export industry in north Queensland.
“A large majority of people of the Latrobe Valley want to hear about improved job conditions; this is exactly the sort of prediction that will sit well with them,” Mr Wakeham said.