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The times must be a-changing: “No” to dirty coal

Hywel Davies casts a skeptical eye over plans to revive coal mining in Wales.

My father was a coal miner in the Llynfi / Maesteg valley from 14 to 26; both my grandfathers were colliers in that valley; and a great grandfather was a miners’ agent and founding committee member of the South Wales Miners Federation which preceded the NUM.

People of my generation greatly admired the mining traditions of our Welsh communities. It was a particular privilege for me to have been trained as a journalist in the Heads of the Valleys and to have become editor of the weekly Merthyr Express serving an area of world importance in the history of the iron and steel and coal industries. During the 1960s and 1970s, when I lived and worked in the area, both sectors were still central to community life.

I regret, however, that until quite recently I, like many others, did not heed scientific warnings regarding the damage being caused to the natural systems of our planet Earth by the burning of coal and oil in electricity power stations.

The burning of coal is among the worst causes of global warming and climate change. As journalists, we failed to reflect the predictions by major scientific institutions that such climate change will blight the lives of generations to come. It is increasingly suggested that such devastating processes are already being experienced in many parts of the world.

This is why I am critical of the campaign to revive coal mining in Wales under the breathtakingly misleading slogan of “Clean Coal”. With the world’s vast demand for power pushing up coal industry profits, the aim is for opencast mines such as East Pit, Selar and Ffos-y-Frân to be joined by others at Tower Colliery, Hirwaun, and by Miller Argent in the Rhymney Valley. There is also the international financing of expansion at underground mines at Aberpergwm (now owned by Walter Energy from Alabama) and Unity Mine, Cwmgwrach (linked with Chian Resources of Australia).

The “Clean Coal” slogan refers to the attempts to develop carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems to inject CO2 underground thus preventing it from causing global warming. The “Seren Project” at Cardiff University is to test carbon sequestration in rock strata in the Swansea area, though other protagonists argue that only sub-ocean schemes should be considered.

Whatever the technical merits or de-merits of such proposals, the fact remains that despite huge subsidies and CCS pilot plants in various countries, coal remains the dirtiest fuel for electricity generation. The reality is that there is minimal CCS involvement in coal power expansion. It remains “Dirty Coal”.

We in Wales have been economically exploited for our mineral resources in the past. My view is that we should say a resolute “No” to the plans of the “Dirty Coal” industry for further exploitation. We should seek nothing less than the creation of a new Green economy as we join the world-wide campaign to avoid major climatic disruption to the Earth – the only planet we have.

Hywel Davies is editor of the Welsh ecological journal Y Papur Gwyrdd and author of A Burning Issue, a report on new coal in Wales commissioned by Jill Evans MEP. As Peace News goes to press, the consortium Miller-Argent, funded by the British Telecom Pension Scheme, is proposing another open-cast coal mining scheme at Nant Llesg under the guise of land reclamation, thus by-passing normal mining safety regulation.

Topics: Climate Change