Coughing up for coal-fired power

Queenslanders will pay with their health if the sunshine state gets a new coal-fired power station, writes EJA’s Dr James Whelan.

Dawson MP George Christensen was recently reported saying he thinks it’s fair if the federal government (ie. the taxpayer) ‘coughs up’ to get a new coal-fired power station to the investment stage.

If this uneconomic plan ever goes ahead, north Queensland residents will also be coughing up – literally.

EJA’s coal and health team works with communities in the Hunter Valley, the NSW Central Coast and the Latrobe Valley who are affected by a whole host of health problems directly related to coal-fired electricity.

Our report, Toxic and terminal: How the regulation of coal-fired power stations fails Australian communities, is littered with stories of people who live with the burden of coal-fired power.

What does that burden feel like?

It feels like not being able to get enough air to breathe when you or your kids have an asthma attack. It feels like repeated, regular, throbbing headaches. It feels like nausea. It feels like respiratory disease, lung cancer, heart attacks and stroke. It means babies born with reduced birth weight. It means years of life lost.

Coal-fired power station pollution causes and contributes to all these conditions. Communities that live within 100 kilometres of coal-fired power plants know all about it.

These illnesses and irritations – not to mention the daily reality of having to wipe coal dust off every flat surface around and often inside your house – are part of life for tens of thousands of households in the Latrobe Valley, the NSW Central Coast and Gladstone because coal-fired power stations emit more than 30 toxic substances and are Australia’s biggest source of fine particles, sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen.

Queensland already has coal-fired power stations in residential areas of Gladstone and just outside Rockhampton.

Now some federal and state politicians are pushing for a new coal-fired power station further north – perhaps in Townsville or Collinsville.

This should be of grave concerns to north Queenslanders who are concerned about their health and the health of their families.

While power stations in every Australian state are inadequately regulated, the Queensland Government does even less than EPAs in NSW and Victoria to protect the community from power station pollution.

Despite the obvious health concerns, One Nation and Queensland’s Liberal National Party are pledging $1.5 billion towards a new coal-fired power station. (Queensland Labor, the Greens and the Katter Australia Party have rejected the idea.)

Proponents of these new coal-fired power stations, like Senator Matt Canavan and LNP leader Tim Nicholls, put much faith in the assurances of the coal industry that any new power station would be an all-new ‘HELE’ (high efficiency, low emission) model.

But evidence from overseas shows these much-hyped ‘HELE’ power stations only marginally reduce toxic emissions. They still generate electricity by burning coal. It is inevitable that they will release fine particles, sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and other nasty pollutants into the surrounding area.

By contrast, solar and wind are completely clean sources of energy. They don’t cause asthma, lung cancer, heart attacks, stroke, respiratory disease, headaches or nausea. And they can be constructed much more rapidly than a coal-fired power station.

Solar is the right source for the sunshine state.

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