Hunter Valley Coal, New South Wales, Australia

Communities, Greens Party, health professionals and local government councillors contest coal production in the Hunter Valley. Activist Wendy Bowman is 2017 Goldman Prize Recipient for Islands and Island Nations

The Climate and Health Alliance are calling for the end of all coal expansion projects in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia, stronger regulation of current operations and a transition plan for affected communities. These calls are not new in the Hunter Valley; however mobilisation against the coal industry is increasing due to the considerable expansion of coal production over the last decade, concern about health and environmental impacts including the contribution of coal consumption to climate change and proposals for at least 21 additional mines. Coal has been mined in the Hunter Valley for the last two centuries. The Hunter Valley has 39 coal mines (22 open cut and 17 underground) and five coal fired power stations (Climate and Health Alliance 2015). The coal mines produce 145 million tonnes of coal per annum, 19 tonnes is consumed in the Hunter Valley and 126 million tonnes is exported. Exports are primarily to Japan, China, Korea and Taiwan with a rapid and strong increase in demand from China (The Centre for International Economics 2014). There are a number of transnational corporations involved in coal production in the Hunter Valley including “BHP Billiton, Peabody Energy, Rio Tinto, Vale, Xstrata, and the Chinese government owned Shenhua, as well as smaller operators” (Connor 2012, 31). Coal production is projected to increase to 243 million tonnes per annum based on the proposed 21 additional mines (Climate and Health Alliance 2015). People’s health is damaged by air pollution from coal production including dust and pollutants from drilling and blasting, excavation, movement of overburden, waste removal, transportation from the coal itself and vehicles (Higginbotham et al 2010); unpaved roads and noise and light pollution (Climate and Health Alliance 2015). Air pollutants include “particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, hydrochloric acid, volatile organic compounds and polyaromatic hydrocarbons” (Climate and Health Alliance 2015 p.12). The most significant threat from air pollution is particles of 10 micrometres or less (PM10 and below), which can travel to people’s lungs and blood stream increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke, are carcinogenic (Climate and Health Alliance 2015) and are associated with “aggravation of asthma, increased hospital admissions and premature death” (Higginbotham et al 2010, 260). The cost of damage to people’s health from coal combustion in Australia is estimated to be $2.6 billion per annum and the cost in the Hunter Valley is estimated to be $600 million (Climate and Health Alliance 2015). Meanwhile the industry is subsidised by State Government which means “the people of New South Wales are effectively subsidising an industry that causes significant harm to their natural capital, adds millions of dollars to health costs, and limits their opportunities to diversify their economy and invest in other industries for a stable economic future” (Climate and Health Alliance 2015, p.31). The most affected communities are in rural and regional towns near coal mines through to Newcastle where coal is transported for export (Climate and Health Alliance 2015). Vulnerable groups within this communities include babies, children and elderly people, Indigenous people, people with chronic ill health and pre-existing cardiovascular and respiratory disease (Climate and Health Alliance 2015). Other industries in the Hunter Valley also affected by mining are farming, agriculture, viticulture, thoroughbred breeding and tourism. Social movements calling for the protection of the environment, health assessments, tighter regulation, the end to coal expansion and greater public participation in decision-making have occurred throughout the Hunter Valley since the late 1970s (Evans and Phelan 2016). Since 2000, calls for health studies in the Upper Hunter have been made from the community, Greens Party, health professionals and local government councillors (Higginbotham et al 2010), and more recently climate action groups are advocating for a transition to a low-carbon or zero-emissions society (Connor 2012). In 2017, activist Wendy Bowman, 83, is one of the last residents left in Camberwell, a small village in Hunter Valley surrounded on three sides by coal mining. She was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her hard battle to defend her land [1]. 
Basic Data
NameHunter Valley Coal, New South Wales, Australia
ProvinceNew South Wales
SiteHunter Valley
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Coal extraction and processing
Specific CommoditiesCoal
Project Details and Actors
Project Details
- 145 million tonnes of coal is produced in the Hunter Valley annually (Hannam 2015)
See more...
Project Area (in hectares)2,914,500
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population664,255 residents in Hunter Valley (The Centre for International Economics 2014)
Start Date01/08/2010
Company Names or State EnterprisesBHP Billiton (BHP) from Australia
Peabody Energy from United States of America
Rio Tinto PLC from Australia
Vale from Brazil
Glencore-Xstrata from Switzerland
Shenhua Watermark from China
Relevant government actorsThe New South Wales government

o Sets mining policy for the assessment and development of proposals through the State Environmental Planning Policy (Mining, Petroleum Production and Extractive Industries) 2007 (Mining SEPP)

o Sets policy for the management of noise and dust through the Voluntary Land Acquisition and Mitigation Policy

o Releases coal and petroleum prospecting titles through the Preliminary Regional Issues Assessment for Potential Coal and Petroleum Exploration Release Areas

New South Wales Environment Protection Agency, regulates and monitors environmental impacts including air quality, and responds to incidents

The Federal government, through a range of policies and legislation including environmental standards through National Environment Protection Measures (NEPM)
Environmental justice organisations and other supporters- Climate and Health Alliance,

- New South Wales Conservation Council,

- Transition Network, (Coal Point 2009 and Newcastle 2008) (Connor 2012)

- Climate Action Newcastle

- Climate Action Lake Macquarie, (Newcastle 2006 and Lake Macquarie 2007) (Connor 2012)

- Rising Tide Australia, (Newcastle 2004) (Connor 2012)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationArtistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Other Health impacts
Other– Cardio-vascular and lung disorders (Hannam 2015)

– Distress from social disruption, environmental harm and concern for future generations (Climate and Health Alliance 2015)

– Social conflict from inequitable compensation, pay (Climate and Health Alliance 2015) and advocacy for or against coal

– Sense of being abandoned and disempowered by the government (Climate and Health Alliance 2015)

– Anxiety about health impacts (Climate and Health Alliance 2015)
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Other socio-economic impacts
OtherEconomic burdens (Climate and Health Alliance 2015)
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseStrengthening of participation
Development of AlternativesThe Climate and Health Alliance recommendations are:

- “A ban on new coal projects in the Hunter Valley

- The development of a transition plan to assist the region develop new industries as coal is phased out

- Stronger regulation of any projects in the planning pipeline to adequately evaluate and limit health, climate, and environmental damages

- Stricter air quality standards and monitoring of all coal sources, with data publicly available

- Increased consultation with communities affected by coal projects

- The implementation of mandatory health impact assessments as part of all project assessment processes still in the planning phase

- Comprehensive health research studies to evaluate:

the environmental health risks faced by local communities from exposure to pollutants associated with the coal industry, and the social impacts associated with disruption to communities, to landscapes, ecosystems and other industries” (Climate and Health Alliance 2015, p.4).

ENGOs advocate for a rapid transition to renewable energy.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.ENGOs and activist stakeholders are still fighting for a just transition from coal, better regulation and protection of the health of both people and the environment, in a political environment that is supportive of coal.
Sources and Materials

Higginbotham, N. Freeman, S. Connor, L. and Albrecht, G., (2009) “Environmental injustice and air pollution in coal affected communities, Hunter Valley, Australia”, Health and Place, Vol. 16 No. 2

Connor, L. H., (2012), “Experimental Publics: Activist Culture and Political Intelligibility of Climate Change Action in the Hunter Valley, Southeast Australia”, Oceania, 82: 228-249

Evans, G., and Phelan, L., (2016), “Transition to a post-carbon society: Linking environmental justice and just transition discourses”, Energy Policy, (in press)


Hannam, P., (2015), “Hunter Valley coal's annual health bill $600 million, doctors groups say”, [online], The Sydney Morning Herald,, [accessed 23 November 2016]
[click to view]

New South Wales Environment Protection Authority, (2015), “Minimising particulate pollution from coal mines”, [online], NSW EPA website,, [accessed 11 December 2016]
[click to view]

New South Wales Planning and Environment, (2016), “Mining and Resources”, [online], NSW Planning & Environment website,, [accessed 11 December 2016]
[click to view]

[1] Wendy Bowman - 2017 Goldman Prize Recipient
Islands and Island Nations
[click to view]

Media Links

Centre for International Economics, (2014), The contribution of mining to the New South Wales economy, Prepared for The NSW Minerals Taskforce, 16 September 2014,, [accessed 10 December 2016]
[click to view]

Climate and Health Alliance, (2015), Coal and Health in the Hunter: Lessons from one valley for the world, [online],, [accessed 23 November 2016]
[click to view]

Other Documents

Liddell Power Station in the Hunter Valley. Photo: Jonathan Carroll. Published in: Hannam, P., (2015), “Hunter Valley coal's annual health bill $600 million, doctors groups say”, [online], The Sydney Morning Herald,, [accessed 23 November 2016]
[click to view]

New South Wales open pit coal mining Source: Goldman Environmental Prize 2017
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorAustralian Environmental Justice Project, Lisa de Kleyn, PhD Candidate, RMIT University, [email protected],
Last update25/04/2017