IT was the second American president, John Adams, who said that despite our wishes, inclinations and passions, we cannot alter ". . . the state of facts and evidence".
Consideration of the issues of air quality and public health must be based on the best available science and evidence, not just the newspaper headlines of the day.
Unfortunately, the recent Senate inquiry report that recommended coal train wagons be "covered" did not look at the available evidence.
The most definitive statement the report made was that, "While the amount and nature of pollution emanating from coal trains was a contested point, it did appear that coal trains are a source of air pollution".
This is hardly the type of rigorous analysis to base a recommendation with such significant implications.
Hunter miners take air quality seriously.
In the Upper Hunter, we funded the Upper Hunter Air Quality Monitoring Network.
We are working with the NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to improve dust management at mine sites. We are conducting research to reduce dust from mine haul roads. We are also working with the community, through the Upper Hunter Mining Dialogue, on a project to use weather forecasts to better plan our mining operations for adverse weather conditions.
Concerns have been raised about air quality along the rail corridor in Newcastle.
The available evidence confirms that air quality in Newcastle is good, and comparable to other urban areas in NSW.
National annual air quality standards and guidelines for PM10 - coarser particles - and PM2.5 - fine particles of greater health concern - have been met at the EPA monitors in the region for the last 10 years, except for 2009 when dust storms occurred right across NSW.
Available evidence also confirms that coal makes up a small proportion of PM2.5 in Newcastle.
Analysis of PM2.5 particles at Mayfield by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation over a 12-year period shows that coal, soil and other industries account for less than 14 per cent of all PM2.5.
Cars (27 per cent), smoke (20 per cent) and sea salt spray (16 per cent) contribute significantly more to PM2.5 levels.
Looking more closely at the rail corridor, the EPA operates a monitor 400 metres from the rail line in Beresfield measuring both PM10 and PM2.5.
Over the past decade, 2009 was the only year when the national annual standards were exceeded.
Pacific National has operated a PM10 monitor next to the rail corridor at Greta since December 2012. While this isn't a compliance monitor like the EPA monitors, it provides indicative measurements of PM10. The monitor has not recorded any excesses of the 24-hour PM10 standards during its eight months of operation.
Two monitoring studies have been completed for the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) by different consultants.
Each found little difference between dust generated by different types of trains, suggesting dust is generated from the rail corridor rather than from coal wagons.
The studies compared air quality results against the EPA monitors in the Newcastle region over the same period and found similar results.
We await the results of the review of the second study by the NSW Chief Scientist.
Two dust gauges have been in Thornton over the past 15 years, one next to the rail corridor and another 1.2 kilometres away, next to the New England Highway.
The gauges measure the amount of dust that settles each month.
The results show both gauges meet the EPA's annual requirements and, on average, more dust settles at the monitor by the highway than at the monitor by the rail corridor.
Finally, wind tunnel testing by Glencore of six different coal types has indicated little potential for "dust lift off" from the surface of loaded coal wagons during typical travel times and conditions from mine to port.
The recent Coal Terminal Action Group (CTAG) study applied a similar methodology to the studies undertaken for ARTC, except for a shorter duration - three days compared to three months.
As a result, CTAG analysed fewer trains, including a very small number of freight and passenger trains.
Like the ARTC study, the CTAG report showed that trains are a source of dust.
However, the CTAG report provided no evidence that air quality standards are not being met. The results did not identify or quantify the source of dust generated, and do not justify the recommendation to cover coal wagons.
Coal trains, like other types of trains, and cars, mines, trucks, fires, sea spray and industrial operations, are a source of particulates.
But there is no pattern that emerges in these studies to suggest coal wagons are a significant source of particulate emissions that warrant highly expensive mitigation measures, such as wagon covers.
There is also no evidence that covers would greatly reduce dust.
The principle of continuous improvement underpins the mining industry's operations. We continually seek better understanding of air quality issues and look at practical ways to improve the way we operate, based on evidence and sound science.
We won't undertake ineffective actions just for PR purposes.
That may fix newspaper headlines, but it would mislead the community. It would also be unfair to the Hunter miners who would risk losing their jobs due to the rise in costs.
Stephen Galilee is the chief executive of the NSW Minerals Council