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Calling coal to account

Written By: - Date published: 11:17 am, March 26th, 2008 - 18 comments
Categories: activism, climate change, economy - Tags: , ,

coal.jpgNew Zealand’s coal industry is a mess of contradictions. We worry about carbon emissions and Kyoto while State-owned Solid Energy exports coal to dirty Chinese factories. Rather than being energy-efficiently shipped out of Greymouth, coal from the West Coast is taken by rail over the Southern Alps because taxpayer-subsidised Toll gives SOE Solid Energy and Pike River a cut-price deal to haul the coal to Lyttelton for export. Meanwhile, we are importing coal from Indonesia for Huntly.

Greenpeace did a great job yesterday of highlighting the stupidity of these arrangements and the government’s lack of commitment on climate change by blockading the Hellenic Sea with its load of Solid energy coal (bound for France of all places) in Lyttelton harbour. Their blog account of the protest is here .

Unfortunately, that story has been tarnished by reports that while 30 Police officers were diverted from Christchurch to arrest the Greenpeace activists, a single officer received minor injuries trying to break up a brawl in the city. It is unfair to blame Greenpeace for this incident. Yes, they broke the law but the Police overreacted by sending so many officers to what they knew would be a peaceful protest. There were only six arrests, which were not resisted, and the only charges were obstruction and unlawfully getting onto a boat.

The coal industry, the Government, and the Police should review their policies in the wake of this protest action. Keep up the good work, Greenpeace.


18 comments on “Calling coal to account”

  1. Steve, I completely agree. Coal is a terrible product.
    We should all cut our throats. I am sure the rest of the planet will follow the enormous dirty polluter NZ.
    The environment will not be as big an issue for the election as it could have been.
    People struggling to pay the bills is the only big issue this election.

  2. People struggling to pay the bills is the only big issue this election.

    Yep – and that means higher wages. Something the right will resist as much as possible.

  3. Steve Pierson 3

    barnsley. what if we cut income taxes significantly, and instead, the State gets revenue by auctioning off the right to extract non-renewable resources and to pollute

  4. insider 4

    You show little understanding of the industry. The contradictions are mainly of your own construction.

    The coal imported from indonesia is lower grade power station coal. Waikato coal is not as available as it was when Huntly was developed. WC coal is not suitable.

    The coal exported from the west coast is mainly high grade anthracite coking coal mainly used for steel manufacture. India is also a major buyer and Japan in the past. It is a very valuable resource which there is no reason not to exploit.

    Why would you export from Greymouth – a dangerous shallow port that may not always be accessible when you have existing good links to a deepwater port? You have no evidence that it would be more environmentally friendly to export from Greymouth. It was requiring a major investment to even make it physically possible. And the coal was being barged to Taranaki for ship loading!

    It is not unfair to blame GP. They have a history of breaking the law and invading other’s property to disrupt their operations both here and overseas. There is also the safety issue to consider in a working port. I don’t see why the ratepayers and taxpayers of NZ should sit back and have the businesses they own be interfered with to aid GP’s self serving publicity seeking operations.

    The real contradiction is the govt owning solid energy. It is hardly a strategic asset -the resource is owned by the crown and the govt doesn’t own any other form of miners like oil, gold etc – and it could be privatised easily given prices for coal are high. Pike River was oversubscribed. It then wouldn;t carry the risk of it being devalued due to climate change policies.

  5. andy 5

    Greenpeace have no moral authority left in NZ after smashing a hole in the French Americas Cup yacht.

    While they play games and attract the media, more police resources required for their safety, they forget sometimes the police have to protect us from each other. They had to protect the protesters from the workers on the boat. I bet they didn’t know they intended to be peaceful.

    3 people on the ship, a couple of zodiacs, could have been terrorists. Our police are not mind readers. Next time your car gets stolen or your TV and the police can’t attend ask greenpeace to help!

  6. Steve Pierson 6

    andy. bro, Greenpeace notified the media of their protest once it got underway. I’ll bet they also got in contact with the Police to let them know that the disturbance in Lyttelton harbour was them. At any rate, the Police knew it was Greenpeace, not terrorists, within minutes thanks to the fact it was the bloody Rainbow Warrior that was in the Hellenic Sea’s way.

    insider. I’m aware that those are different grades of coal moving in and out of new zealand, but that is only a problem because we choose to use a different grade of coal than the one we have here.

    I think the crown owns the gold and all mineral resources – given that they are public property, shouldn’t a public comapny manage their extraction. And why would we sell a profitable company, especially when that further removes it from government regarding cliamte change policy?

  7. insider 7

    No Steve, you’re effectively suggesting that because it is local it can be used for anything, when it’s actually horses for courses because the coals have different properties and so different performance and different values. It’s like putting race fuel in a 15 year old jap import family wagon. It might work, but it will be bloody expensive and hard to get in the quantities you want.

    Why would the govt get involved in a business that is not “essential” and where there are perfectly competent operators? There are far more essential services it does not own. What value would the govt add that industry doesn’t? None that I can see.

    Why sell? well quite simply because it may be at the top of the market and it is ptentially going to damage the business’s value with policy changes. Are you saying it is a wise use of taxpayer money to hold onto an asset that could be devalued by your own actions?

    PS Crown Minerals does in effect manage the use of resources by giving licences.

  8. Steve Pierson 8

    I’ld have to look into it but I’m sure I reember seeing in the energy report that we export some of the same grade coal that we import, and tha’ts not all too surprising because these are companies operating on individual deals rather than a broader economic or social logic.

    re. crown minerals, yeah I would like to see that licencing system extended, with rights for all kinds of resource use (water fish stocks, carbon, other pollutants, minerals, etc) auctioned off, and used as a revenue stream to partially replace income tax. As with a cap and trade system it has the attraction over a resource tax in that the govt can set extraction levels directly (and that is what matters to our environment), and the price changes to match it, rather than changing the tax level to target a extraction level.

  9. Phil 9

    “but that is only a problem because we choose to use a different grade of coal than the one we have here.”

    Umm… no.
    Different grades of coal are as diverse as the difference between Bitumen, Diesel, and AvGas (But… but… but they all come from Crude Oil!)

    If you want to rebuild the Huntly station, Steve, be my guest.

  10. insider 10

    “I would like to see that licencing system extended, with rights for all kinds of resource use”

    I think that is an ACT policy…there’s hope for you yet 🙂

  11. Camryn 11

    Not really related, but I can’t help but giggle when the American coal industry (as “Americans for Balanced Energy Choices”) promotes itself (heavily) on television as “America’s Power” in ads set to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration”. Everything is so overt here!


    P.S. Captcha is “No Levee”. Don’t tell New Orleans.

  12. insider 12

    Americans consume energy with a passion not with guilt.

  13. Tim 13

    Greenpeace are pretty mild really. I wonder what the Sea Shepherd would have done in the same situation?

  14. andy 14


    My argument still stands, they protested in such a way as to draw the ire of people and a massive over response from the police and media and they got called on it. The police have to assess all threats and not just from a phone call from Greenpeace.

    The police have to arrest and protect them at the same time. I am sure they know better than us what amount of resources they needed, do Phillipino (at a guess) sailors understand the protest? Do you know that ocean going vessels have lots of guns on board to stop piracy, now that would have been news.

  15. Pat 15

    Maybe if the police had sent 30 officers to the Rainbow Warrior bombing, they would have caught all the French Terrorists.

    When will they get it?

    From the Vietnam protests to the anti-aparthied demos, from Bastion Pt. to the anti-nuclear movement, the police in this country have always been on the wrong side of history.

  16. andy 16


    Do you think the police had to go with ‘overwhelming force’, to look like they are doing something! I do, as they knew the media would be there on mass (is perfect for tv and we all can see that)

    The police are in a catch 22, greenpeace should be embarrased by thse actions.

    BTW its not their job to ‘get it’ and what is it that they have to get? I bet you were disgusted by the boy racers in ChCh recently? What if they ignored them and said they were just harmless protesters ? You would have been up in arms and calling for them to do something! They have a job to keep the peace, protect people and ‘property’, they never stop legitimate protest (sams Jenny Shipleys time). What did Green peace do, risk peoples lives (thier own) and invade or restrict others property rights. You are talking about history over 20 years ago. The police on the front line today were probably not even born!

    Maybe you don’t get it! Peaceful protest is legal, how can greenpeace justify non peaceful protest when ‘peace’ is part of thier brand! How many were arrested? from the coal ship?

  17. Dale 17

    There were two very large ships involved and many crew so the number of police required was large.What GreenPeace did was to put peoples lives in danger,the sea conditions were not that calm. It was a publicity stunt to start off their nation wide tour to gain new members and generate cash. I think they may have lost more support than they gained.I hope those prosicuted will face the full force of the law and have the book thrown at them. Piracy is a very serious offence. If GreenPeace had any BALLS they would do it in a Chinese Port.

  18. insider 18

    Wonder if their ship is made from steel produced using coking coal?

    I’m sure it runs on biodiesel too. But of course it’s do as we say not do as we do with GP, or is it the ends justifies the means?

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