Paul Connor, an activist with the Stop HRL campaign, writes: Few could accuse Mantle Mining company director Ian Kraemer of lacking rhetorical ambition. Attending a public meeting in Bacchus Marsh recently to explain his plan to turn local farmlands into a brown coal mine, Kraemer was keen to talk up his environmental credibility. “Brown coal”, he told locals present, “has the ability to be the saviour of the planet”.

Now, given brown coal’s status as one of the world’s most polluting fossil fuels, this seems an odd statement. Yet Kraemer is adamant it can be defended. Mantle, he says, plans to use a special technique developed by another company, Exergen, to remove moisture from the coal, thereby reducing its greenhouse emissions by up to 40%. Given that countries such as China and India are likely to use brown coal for some time to come, he argues, it makes good environmental sense to help them to burn it in a cleaner way.

But can we trust Kraemer’s reasoning here? To begin, let’s examine the claim that Exergen’s coal-drying technology will reduce greenhouse emissions from burning brown coal by up to 40%. A quick review of the company’s very own promotional material shows how deceitful that figure really is.

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First, this figure fails to take into account the emissions involved in the coal-drying process, which itself involves substantial energy use. So while there may technically be less emissions in China when the coal is burnt, there will be more here when it is dried. Second, it compares the emissions of burning Exergen’s dried coal in a hypothetical brand new state-of-the-art coal plant against the emissions from current coal plants in the La Trobe Valley. Yet virtually anything will seem clean in comparison with the decrepit dinosaurs currently choking the ‘smelly valley’.

And finally (and perhaps most importantly), there is no indication anywhere that Exergen’s figure has ever been scientifically tested or independently verified. Simply put, Kraemer’s claims about Exergen’s technology are at best misleading.

But for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that Exergen’s coal-drying process really could do something like what Kraemer imagines, and provide at least a small reduction in emissions. Would there then be any good reason for mining Bacchus Marsh coal rather than leaving it in the ground?

Of course not. For if this technology is truly an economically viable way of reducing brown coal’s emissions, then coal-reliant countries will flock to it, with or without Victorian exports. And if it is not viable, it will simply not be deployed. Either way, the global effort to tackle climate change will be far better off without the additional emissions from digging up, drying-out, transporting and burning brown coal from Bacchus Marsh.

So let no one be fooled. Ian Kraemer is no environmentalist. He and his company are blindly seeking profit in Bacchus Marsh at the expense of valuable agricultural land, its owners rights, and a safe climate future for us all. It is galling that he has the temerity to claim the moral high ground while doing so.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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