MINING giant Glencore has lost the social licence to more than double annual production at its Glendell coal mine near Singleton until 2044, say doctors backing students who want no more mine expansions in the Hunter.
Doctors for the Environment Australia argues the mine should close rather than expand when reserves are exhausted in 2023, because of global warming and the right of Upper Hunter residents to clean air.
"In December 2019 and January 2020 many people in Australian cities are experiencing poor air quality for the first time, due to bushfires," said the DEA submission lodged this week against the Glendell expansion.
"Poor air has been the reality for years for people living close to coal mines, and despite lip service to dust control the trend has been that the problem is getting worse in the Hunter Valley."
The DEA said the Hunter has the worst coarse particle PM10 pollution in NSW, after monitoring showed eight of nine NSW sites that exceeded the coarse particle annual standard in 2018 were in the Hunter. Every Hunter site exceeded the one-day standard in 2018 and Camberwell, near the Glendell mine and the massive Mount Owen mine site, registered 44 daily exceedances.
Monitoring in 2019 until October shows Camberwell exceeded the daily standard 41 times and Singleton Heights, which is 15 kilometres from Glendell and with a population of more than 4000, recorded 21 days exceeding the PM10 standard.
"Exposure causes exacerbations of respiratory disease such as asthma and emphysema, and chronic exposure is associated with lung cancer especially in non-smokers. There is also convincing evidence that particle air pollution damages lung growth in children," said Hunter DEA spokesmen Dr Ben Ewald and John Van Der Kallen.
"That the people of the Hunter Valley have ongoing exposure to air pollution at levels higher than the national standards is an environmental injustice that demands remedy. This injustice has been getting progressively worse over time," the DEA submission said.
The National Pollution Inventory that uses industry figures to record pollution levels showed that in 2018 66,000 tonnes of PM10 coarse particle pollution was released in the Hunter, with more than 95 per cent from coal mining.
The DEA said annual average PM10 at Camberwell had increased each year since 2014 and "the progressive deterioration in air quality has been a significant cause of community concern".
The doctors' group quoted Pope Francis in its submission, after his landmark 2016 speech saying the world "lacked leadership" about caring for the environment and prejudicing future generations.
"The carbon released by the combustion of coal from this mine will exacerbate global heating, worsening the crisis that has led to the current bushfire emergency," the DEA said.
The Paris Agreement was being used to obscure the effect that exported coal will have on the global climate, by allowing many politicians and the mining industry to argue emissions from Hunter coal burnt overseas are the responsibility of the user and should not be the basis of mine refusals here, the DEA said.
"The fact that exported coal causes emissions in an overseas power station does not change the laws of physics," the DEA said.
"The public health message of an earlier decade was 'Every cigarette is doing you damage'. The public health message of this decade is 'Every fossil fuel project is doing us damage'.
"The social licence for further coal mine developments has been lost. Especially now, after the worst bushfires and drought ever known in Australia, that are a direct result of human-induced climate change, there is no longer a social licence to expand coal mining.
"Just the opposite, there needs to be a concerted effort to transition away from coal to industries with a future."
Dr Van Der Kallen said Doctors for the Environment Australia was not arguing that coal mining in the Hunter had to stop tomorrow.
"We haven't said that. What is needed is an orderly transition. Obviously you can't shut mining down tomorrow and people can't lose their jobs overnight. But if we are going to mitigate the consequences of climate change we have to stop these expansions now. Eighty per cent of the known fossil fuel reserves in the world need to stay in the ground," Dr Van Der Kallen said.
"We've known about climate change for decades and the impacts it will have, particularly in Australia, and here we are experiencing the consequences of failing to act on those warnings. But people are still happy that coal mines are expanding."
Dr Van Der Kallen said he and Doctors for the Environment Australia supported Hunter teenagers who called on adults to make 2020 the year of drawing a line in the sand to stop any further Hunter mine expansions.
"Children have learnt the science, they understand the impacts. They are frightened for their own futures," he said.
"They would like to have a world where the opportunities that have been available to those of us who are adults now, will be there for them. I very much understand their position, why they want these mine expansions to stop now and why they want the rest of us to support them in stopping these expansions."
Dr Van Der Kallen said the catastrophic bushfires that have horrified the world were "disturbing and devastating" even for someone who has warned about the impacts of global warming for years.
Any vindication he might have felt was "hollow", but "a good opportunity now presents itself for this issue to be faced".
"You can see the change in people's attitudes now that they have grasped the kinds of impacts that occur in a warming world because of the catastrophic nature of these fires," Dr Van Der Kallen said.
Glencore described the Glendell expansion as a "brownfield continuation of the existing Glendell pit" that fits within its commitment in February, 2019 to cap global coal production at 150 million tonnes per year of saleable product.
"The project will occur at a time when production at Glencore's adjacent Liddell Coal Operations, and the Ravensworth East and Glendell mines, have ceased," Glencore said in its application to the Department of Planning.
"The coal produced by the project is 'replacement production' that will help to maintain Glencore's long term production profile."
Submissions for the Glendell expansion close on January 31. The Department of Planning will assess the project, which is expected to be referred to the Independent Planning Commission.