Concerns grow on opencast coal mining

IssueJuly - August 2009
News by Kelvin Mason

Bethan Jenkins AM (Plaid Cymru) will meet with Assembly environment minister Jane Davidson to raise concerns on behalf of constituents and campaigners who fear new regulations on opencast mining may not be enough to protect the health and wellbeing of communities in Wales.

On 20 January, the Minister issued the Minerals Technical Advice Notes: Coal (Coal MTAN), which included the implementation of a 500-metre buffer zone for future opencast developments.

Campaigners and residents have, however, voiced concerns that the Coal MTAN includes a number of exemptions that could result in opencast mining without the stipulated 500m buffer zone being observed.

Bethan Jenkins told Peace News: “There is concern amongst those who have contacted me with regards to the exclusions identified to the implementation of a buffer zone as shown in Section 49 of the document. “Campaigners and constituents alike state that the ‘exceptional circumstances’ are far too wide-ranging, and therefore mitigate the effectiveness of the implementation of the 500m buffer zone.”

Confirming that she hoped to meet with the minister as soon as possible to raise such concerns directly, Bethan Jenkins added: “Personally, I am of the firm view that a strict ‘presumption against’ opencast coal mining for any new applications or extensions, especially in Green Wedge areas is essential for the sake of our communities. “I am also of the view that the use of economic regeneration as a premise for expansion in opencast mining should be abandoned.”

Jane Davidson, once considered as a politician with sound environmental credentials, appears embarrassed by the Welsh Assembly government’s backing for opencast coalmining.

Burning the coal being extracted from sites such as the infamous Ffos Y Frân will accelerate climate change, a phenomenon already costing 300,000 lives a year according to a report from former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s think-tank the Global Humanitarian Forum.

By 2030, moreover, climate change could be costing $600bn per annum. Technology to capture and sequester the carbon emissions from burning coal, so-called CCS, is decades from being available on a commercial scale and may never be viable.

In Abergavenny, on 22 May, Jane Davidson told a public meeting that planning permission for the mine was granted by others, before her time in office, and was a decision she could not change. Jane Davidson’s office does have the power to amend or revoke planning permission for the life of that permission, however. Claiming there is no political will to mount any challenge, Jane Davidson refused a request for a meeting from Alyson Austin of Residents Against Ffos Y Frân (RAFF), reportedly stating: “I can’t meet with you. I can’t discuss this proposal. I don’t meet with objectors”.

One answer to such deficits in democracy will be offered by Climate Camp Cymru which takes place from 13-16 August in South Wales. A participant told Peace News: “We’re concentrating on jobs and asking why, when the government can bail out an inept financial system, it cannot put funds into seeding green industries and creating green jobs.”

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