No to coal

IssueOctober 2008
Feature by Kelvin Mason

Merthyr Tydfil residents and climate change campaigners staged protests at the Cardiff Hilton during the AGM of the UK Coal Authority on 10 September. Campaigners scaled the luxury hotel and hung a banner reading “Coal = Climate Disaster” over the main entrance.

Inside, with no hint of irony, the Coal Authority prepared to present its “Environmental Awards”. Residents sorely afflicted by Ffos-y-Frân opencast coalmine interrupted proceedings to present developers Miller Argent with their own award: “The Community Award for Global Climate Crimes”.

Alyson Austin told reporters: “I wanted to make clear to James Poyner of Miller Argent the misery he is bringing to our community. We are disgusted that local democracy has been ignored, and Miller Argent has not been challenged by the Welsh Assembly, despite their promises to us to take environmental issues seriously.”

The UK Coal Authority is a government-funded body that promotes the industry. The AGM features sessions on expanding opencast mining and prolonging the operating life of aging power stations – activities that protesters contend cause local and global environmental damage.

Speaking outside the Hilton, Swansea resident and environmental campaigner James Bryant said: “At a time when climate change and rising fossil fuel prices are top of the political agenda, it seems amazing that the coal industry can still have cosy meetings about how great business is with no mention of the bigger picture.”

The coal industry faces mounting opposition to its plans for a new generation of coal-fired power stations.

The protest in Cardiff took place on the same day six Greenpeace activists were cleared of causing criminal damage at Kingsnorth power station in October last year. It remains to be seen whether similar legal defences will save protesters such as those who closed Aberthaw power station in April, and the Drax coal train occupiers.

Meanwhile, on Saturday 27 September, there will be a protest in Cardiff against fuel poverty caused by rising gas and electricity bills.

Protesters will demand an emergency windfall tax on the profits of energy companies. The tax would alleviate the burden on people in fuel poverty and fund house insulation schemes to lower fuel bills and reduce carbon emissions.

Protesters also want greater regulation of corporate power through measures such as price capping. They even propose the re-nationalisation of gas and electricity companies, running them on a needs-before-profit basis.

A spokesperson said: “Last year British Gas raised prices to boost profits by 500% and bills have gone up again this year. In Britain, the fifth richest economy in the world, more pensioners die in winter than in Siberia because they can’t afford to heat their homes. One in four people in Britain are now in fuel poverty, spending more than 10% of income on fuel.”

See more of: Wales