Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday claimed that Labor’s MRET target of 20% by 2020 was like “slapping the coal industry in the face.”

Undeterred by the uncomfortable conflict between juggling the Environment portfolio whilst leaping to the defence of the coal industry, Turnbull said Mr Rudd had “slammed the door in the face of the coal industry”, by not including clean coal technology in the ALP’s policy.

But the CFMEU’s federal president, Tony Maher, rejected Turnbull’s rousing defence: “The coal miners I represent are not going to be used as political pawns by the Prime Minister or anyone else.”

In fact, the CFMEU, former best friends of the Prime Minister in the last election over Tasmanian forests, went out of its way to point out that renewable energy would not cost a single coal job. Instead, the Prime Minister’s now unmentionable N word would lose more coal jobs.

They released independent modelling, conducted by economic modellers MMA and commissioned by the Climate Institute, that shows that a nuclear industry would “lead to reductions in the coal industry of 20 per cent by 2050.

“Our members endorsed a policy that supports Kyoto and clean energy targets because they recognise the greatest threat to their job security is continued inaction by the Howard Government,” said Maher. “But they have rejected nuclear energy as an option – but the experts say this is the biggest threat to their job security.”

Crikey asked Dominique la Fontaine from the Clean Energy Council if the ALP’s renewables target was really as upsetting to the coal industry as the federal government has claimed.

“Of course not,” says la Fontaine. “The target is actually a pro-jobs policy and pro investment. The Council estimates $20 billion in investment to 2020 and up to 50,000 jobs across various fields including clean tech, engineering, construction, manufacturing etc. Key coal industry figures have said this target will not cost jobs. It’s a way to address our future energy needs and help us evolve to a clean powered, sustainable economy.

“Coal will continue to play a major role in energy supply. It’s also worth noting that the bulk of our coal is exported and not burned locally for fuel, a clear indication that this is a global problem requiring local and global action,” says la Fontaine.

And maybe the real reason that the CFMEU isn’t worried is because, as Tony Maher puts it, companies are relaxed about targets because “the energy growth between now and 2020 will be between 30 and 40 per cent so there’s plenty of room for various energy sources.” But doesn’t this defeat the whole purpose of current targets? Should we be aiming higher?

“That’s the real next question,” says la Fontaine. “But if we’re aiming for 60% reduction in emissions by 2050 or perhaps even more, we need to get there in stages, learning as we go that this feeds back into quicker and better commercialisation of new technologies. Right now this target is a realistic and achievable measure that will have a tangible result in the short term.”