As the third and final week of hearings comes to a close at the Hazelwood inquiry, Environment Victoria says a clear picture is emerging that coal is not the cheap source of fuel it claims to be.
The weeks of evidence have revealed a litany of failures and a culture of neglect amongst government agencies and GDF Suez, against a backdrop of disastrous health impacts on the community.
Environment Victoria’s barristers, with lawyers from Environmental Justice Australia, have cross-examined witnesses at the Hazelwood Inquiry this week.
Environment Victoria Safe Climate Campaign Manager Dr Nicholas Aberle, who has attended the hearings this week said today:
“When it came to preventing fires in coal mines, we’ve seen a company that isn’t showing a high level of concern for the wellbeing of nearby residents, prioritizing profit-taking instead. A fire sprinkler system was removed because it was corroded, but GDF Suez didn’t put in a replacement because a 20-year-old policy didn’t require them to.
“GDF Suez says that rehabilitation is too hard because there’s not enough overburden to cover the exposed coal. They’ve been quite happy to dig up the coal and bank the profits, but now they don’t want to repair the damage even though the inquiry’s experts and GDF Suez themselves agree that rehabilitation is the best way of preventing fires.
“Government regulators have also been missing in action. We heard this week that no government agency seems prepared to accept responsibility for protecting the community from mine fires.
“In between these revelations, we heard the anguish of a young couple trying to decide whether to evacuate the town, not knowing what effects the toxic plume might have on their unborn child. The health authorities didn’t know what the effects of the smoke might be, so the couple was left to agonize by themselves.
“All of this reveals the real cost of coal. The fire has revealed the cost of coal to our health, with many witnesses citing how they suffered for weeks. Even at the best of times, the Latrobe Valley generators are amongst the biggest emitters of toxic particles in the country.
“Coal costs more money than we thought: the rehabilitation bill is going to be huge, and unless GDF Suez is forced to start rehabilitation work now, the Government and taxpayers will be left footing the bill. This cost needs to be factored in now with a review of rehabilitation bonds.
“Coal is also costing us a safe climate, which US President Obama and the Chinese Government have recently acknowledged, but we seem to be ignoring in Victoria.
“It’s time to start making decisions about the future of energy in Victoria, and these decisions need to factor in the costs of continuing to rely on coal. Are these costs really worth bearing when we now have alternatives that don’t pollute our lungs or our atmosphere?”
Dr Aberle is available for comment. For more information please contact Holly Crocket 0413 343 329