Dust-up looms over amended coal report

The findings of the Particulate Emissions from Coal Trains environment report were reversed when the report went public, according to a local activist group and the Greens. Photo: Matthew KellyAn environment study into the effects of dust from coal trains has apparently been doctored, with the federal and NSW government misled – perhaps willingly, according to a local activist group and the Greens.
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The Particulate Emissions from Coal Trains report for the nationally owned Australian Rail Track Corporation had 15 of its 18 conclusions changed between the submission of the draft version dated May 24 and the version made public seven days later, said James Whelan, chair of the dust and health committee of the Coal Terminal Action Group.

The leaked draft version of the ARTC report found air pollution levels were high when loaded and unloaded coal rail wagons passed a monitoring station compared with when there was no rail traffic.

The public version of the report, though, reversed those findings and just a day later the NSW government had accepted the revised report and based policy on it, Dr Whelan said.

“The chair of the EPA Barry Buffier would appear to have been very gullible and perhaps hasty to make policy announcements on the back of a report that quite clearly contradicted a version of the report he had received six days previously,” Dr Whelan said.

The NSW EPA has been contacted for comment.

The ARTC is seeking to double the number of coal trains through the Hunter Valley and Newcastle to feed a proposed fourth coal export terminal at the port city. The activist group says 30,000 residents live within half a kilometre of the coal rail corridor and will face heightened health risks from additional trains.

The group has written to the NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and two of his ministers to call for a Special Commission of Inquiry to identify how the draft report, compiled by Katestone consultants, came to be amended to produce opposite findings in three instances.

“By deleting or inserting the word ‘no’ or ‘not’, a very different picture of the impacts of coal trains on air quality in Newcastle and the Lower Hunter is reached,” the group said in a statement. “Other conclusions were modified to significantly downplay the pollution levels associated with coal trains, and the released report saw three new conclusions added and one deleted.”

Said Dr Whelan: “At least one of the versions of this report suggests that the concentrations of those particles will significantly increase.

“It’s either ARTC, or Katestone [who made the changes]…The question is who made the instructions or instructed them to?”

Greens push

The Greens have also been pressing the federal government for answers, with transport spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon calling on Transport Minister Anthony Albanese to reveal any involvement by his department and the ARTC in altering the findings of this report .

“Minister Albanese needs to explain why the [ARTC] publicly released a report that appears to have falsified results,” Senator Rhiannon said in a statement.

“The altered report fits hand-in-hand with the coal industry’s strategy to downplay the health impacts of the mining and transport of coal.”

Senator Rhiannon plans to move a motion in the Senate when parliament resumes next week for Mr Albanese to release all documents related to the drafting of this report.

“It’s a very serious public health,” Dr Whelan said. “It’s a matter of national significance.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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