HOW you reacted to the news that mining firms like BHP, Rio Tinto and Glencore were looking at as many as 16 new open-cut mine proposals in the Upper Hunter will, of course, depend on your outlook.

As always, we ride the peaks and troughs of the coal industry. A Janus-faced region that experiences news of coal’s persistence as simultaneously economically reassuring and environmentally concerning.

For no one experiences the realities of coal like those who both depend on it, and suffer because of it. Just ask the people of Bulga, Gloucester or Singleton. 

It is, really, the Hunter’s only existential argument. More essential than figs, rail lines or whichever patch of coastal land is the latest subject of developer interest. What would we do without coal, and what is coal doing to us? 

For governments of all persuasions, that is a question that has well-and-truly been relegated to the too hard basket. It was only last month that Premier Mike Baird said he expected coal production to continue in NSW for “many decades”. 

This is a Premier who agrees that climate change exists, and that it is caused by humans. Presumably he also agrees that coal mining plays a role in that, and if Australia is to reach the international climate abatement targets it has agreed to it will have to – eventually –  do something about its emissions.

We also have to work though, of course, and it’s perhaps understandable that many in the Upper Hunter prefer not to look a gift horse like another mine expansion in the mouth.

And here is where we get to this latest issue. The Upper Hunter Assessment Strategy, first flagged four years ago, is supposed to be a sort of catch-all for biodiversity issues in the Upper Hunter. With so many mines dealing with similar issues, it perhaps makes sense to deal with all of them through a single mechanism.

But when a mine – in this case the United Wambo open-cut – seems to be able to refer to a document that no one has seen, it rightfully raises red flags.

If the mine conforms to the assessment, what exactly is in the assessment?  Why has its release been so thoroughly delayed? Is it based on rigorous science? How much say have the firms who helped pay for it had in its structure?

Because there are many, like Lock the Gate activists, who are keen to look closely.

ISSUE: 38,344

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