17 June 2013  – As a Climate Commission report said that most of our coal needed to stay in the ground, Newcastle residents must keep it in their lungs it seems, as the NSW Environment Protection Authority refused to force coal trains to cover their loads as they move vast quantities through local communities to shipping ports.

Chairman and chief executive Barry Buffier of the EPA said his agency “would not consider imposing additional requirements on industry, such as covering of coal loads, unless clear evidence becomes available which demonstrates the need for further studies or measures to control coal dust emissions from loaded coal trains”.

But the Coal Terminal Action Group is calling for a Special Commission of Inquiry into coal dust in the Hunter, after The Greens said the Australian Rail Track Corporation changed the conclusion of a report to say that coal trains were not associated with elevated particle pollution in the Hunter.

Greens transport spokeswoman Senator Lee Rhiannon said the final version of the report was released with the initial conclusion reversed.

“Three of the report’s conclusions about coal-related air pollution were changed by inserting a ‘not’ or ‘no’,” she said.

“In a number of other findings, the results were modified to significantly reduce the air pollution levels associated with coal trains.”

“Minister Albanese needs to explain why the Australian Rail Track Corporation publicly released a report that appears to have falsified results,” Senator Rhiannon said.

  • From The Washington Post Air pollution now kills more people than high cholesterol
  • From The Guardian: The latest figures suggest 29,000 people die prematurely from it every year in Britain, twice as many as from road traffic, obesity and alcohol combined, and that air pollution is now second only to smoking as a cause of death.  Air pollution, especially from diesel engines, is a “neglected, hidden killer” and children and old people are especially at risk, according to Dr Ian Mudway, a lecturer in respiratory toxicology with the environmental research group at King’s College London university.  “There’s strong evidence that if you live near main roads you will have smaller lungs,” he says. “They will not reach capacity and will be stunted. When, or if, people move to a cleaner environment they still do not recover the function they lost. We have good evidence that every child born in Tower Hamlets will have a reduction in the volume of their lungs by the age of eight. The point is, people die of lung disease later on.

The Coal Terminal Action Group group said, “Many other conclusions have been altered and data apparently reclassified.”

The group called for a proposed fourth coal terminal to be suspended pending the recommendations of the Special Commission of Inquiry.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation, on its website, says it strongly refutes claims that the Pollution Reduction Program 4.2: Particulate Emissions from Coal Trains report, conducted by an expert environmental consulting group was doctored.

“At no time did ARTC request any changes to the data or statistical analysis in any of the drafts of the report,” the website says.

“ARTC engaged environmental consultants (Katestone Environmental) to undertake this study on our behalf to satisfy the terms of our licence with the NSW Environment Protection Agency.

“The work plan, draft and final reports were provided to the NSW Environment Protection Agency for their review and comment before its final release.

“The environmental consultants that undertook the research and prepared the reports on ARTC’s behalf corrected their technical calculations while preparing the final report and adjusted their findings accordingly.

“Some comments provided by the NSW EPA also resulted in changes to the final report.

“Both the draft report and the final report concluded that: “Loaded coal trains operating on the Hunter Valley rail network, when measured at Metford, did not have a statistically stronger association with elevated particulate matter concentrations than other trains.”

This finding is consistent with the first report conducted by a different environmental consultant and released in September 2012.

The draft report is here.

The news comes as a Climate Commission report stated that most of our coal needed to stay in the ground.

The Climate Commission Critical Decade 2013 report released today stated that most fossil fuels needed to stay in the ground for the planet to have a high chance of staying within a 2°C global temperature increase limit.

“It is clear that global society must virtually decarbonise in the next 30-35 years,” the report said.

“This means that most of the fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground.

“Most nations of the world, including Australia, have agreed that the risks of a changing climate beyond 2°C are unacceptably high,” the report said, however it noted that if all current fossil fuel reserves were to be exploited, we would overshoot the estimated 2050 budget of 600 billion tonnes of carbon emissions by five times.

“Burning all fossil fuel reserves would lead to unprecendented changes in climate so severe that they will challenge the existence of our society as we know it today.”

The report also noted that storing carbon in soils and vegetation – a key part of the Coalition’s direct action plan – could not substitute for reducing fossil fuel emissions.

Failure to prevent pollution and protect human health is creating a costly legacy for Australia.

Doctors for the Environment Australia argues that proper health impact assessments and national oversight are crucial and long overdue.