New Zealand has extensive lignite deposits in Southland and Otago. Some think that we should be using this “mineral wealth” for economic good. For example, Solid Energy, a state owned enterprise, want to mine Lignite in Southland. They’ve proposed converting the former Mataura mine site into a $25 million briquetting plant. This would make about 90,000 tonnes of briquettes a year from 150,000 tonnes of lignite.
I’m opposed to this proposal because, from an environmental perspective, it just doesn’t make sense. Dr Jan Wright, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is correct, when she observes that “the plans to increase lignite use are extremely concerning as they would produce huge quantities of carbon dioxide which contributes to climate change”.
We won’t be arbitrarily prohibiting such mining operations simply because we don’t happen to like them. We will apply an appropriately calibrated Emissions Trading Scheme to them. Under any such scheme, its highly unlikely that the Southland proposal by Solid Energy would make the cut.
Lignite mining and conversion would only be likely to be viable under a properly calibrated ETS if forests of new trees were planted to off-set the increased emissions, and currently experimental carbon capture and storage technology were deployed commercially.
Unfortunately, we have a government that believes that the environment should be sacrificed for economic growth. John Key is on the record as saying, “At the moment companies like Solid Energy are growth companies and we want them to expand in areas like lignite conversion”. What he needs to realise is that for New Zealand, economic and environmental well-being are intertwined, not two separate, competing considerations.