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While there are still a lot of coal fetishists in business and politics -- Matt Canavan and his LNP cronies, the ALP's Joel Fitzgibbon, the mining division of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), Liberal donors like Trevor St Baker -- they seem oblivious to the gathering forces that present a major threat to the coal industry, and particularly thermal coal.

BHP is just the latest example, this week confirming it wants out of all coal except its (relatively) high value metallurgical coal operations in Queensland’s Bowen Basin that it owns with Mitsubishi. The rest -- its weaker metallurgical mines in the Mitsui Coal joint venture, plus its Hunter Valley thermal coal operations and a big mine in Colombia -- are on the market.

The CFMEU accuses BHP and Mitsui of running down working conditions at the mines, and says it "welcomes new owners" who might restore them. But BHP isn't alone. US miner Peabody -- which went into and out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US in 2017-18 and still faces an uncertain future -- is cutting between 50 and 150 staff of its Wambo underground mine in the Hunter Valley.