Moving Out One by One as Australia Pursues Coal  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The New York Times has a look at how the coal boom in Australia is devouring country towns (have there been any stories like this in the local press ? I've seen nothing similar) - Moving Out One by One as Australia Pursues Coal.

Glenn Beutel recalled that the phone call came, as it happened, just before the first anniversary of his mother’s funeral. A representative of the coal mining company New Hope Coal, which was seeking to expand its operations, asked whether he could drop by.

The next day, he listened to Mr. Beutel’s concerns about increased mining before turning to the visit’s real purpose. Was Mr. Beutel interested in selling his property?

“I told him it was part of my soul,” Mr. Beutel, 57, said softly. “He ran away.”

But over the next five years, officials of New Hope Coal would meet with Mr. Beutel’s neighbors, buying up their homes and land one by one. Some sold happily; others said they felt coerced. Either way, Mr. Beutel now finds himself the last homeowner here, this 120-year-old town vanishing rapidly around him, huge deposits of coal lying under him and lawyers for the coal company threatening to come down on him.

Even as Asian demand for Australia’s resources keeps surging, the fate of this small town has become a catalyst for pent-up anger over the coal industry’s push into populated and farming areas. It has also set off a larger debate in Australia, the world’s biggest exporter of coal, about mining’s costs and benefits to the country.

The Australian government last month proposed an overhaul of the taxes on resources, arguing that mining companies benefited disproportionately during the past decade’s commodities boom. The proposal, which would replace mining royalties paid to the government with a 40 percent “super profits” tax on corporate income above a still unspecified threshold, has drawn a fierce response from mining companies.

The companies’ criticism helped sink the approval ratings of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who was forced to resign last week by his own party. His successor, Julia Gillard, has backed the tax but hinted at a compromise with mining officials, whose advertising campaign convinced many voters that the tax would kill jobs and hurt the economy. ...

The government has said that revenues from the new tax would create a more balanced economy by lowering the overall corporate tax rate, helping small businesses, increasing pensions and investing in infrastructure.

Supporters of the tax, including farmers, say mining hurts other industries. By offering higher wages, it makes labor scarcer and pricier for others; farmers fear that new mines will pollute sources of water and destroy agricultural land.

Until a few years ago, most of the coal mining in Queensland took place in the sparsely populated north or center of the state. But because demand from China, and in the future, India, is expected to keep rising, companies are exploring for coal reserves or drawing up plans to expand existing mining operations.

Drew Hutton, an environmentalist who helped found the Green Party, said that after decades of indifference, Australians were now starting to worry about coal’s effects on the environment and their food supply. The fate of Acland and Mr. Beutel, whose situation has received a lot of coverage in the local news media, has also put a face on opposition to King Coal, Mr. Hutton, 63, said.


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