Opposition to the extraction of low and high grade coals in the South Island is mounting.
An Environment Court challenge has been lodged and the Government is coming under increasing attack for backing coal and lignite use.
The West Coast Environment Network has filed an appeal with the Environment Court against resource consents awarded to listed Bathurst Resources which wants to mine up to two million tonnes of high grade coal from the Denniston Plateau north of Westport, citing the 200ha as being of high conservation value.
Separately, state-owned enterprise Solid Energy started constructing its $25 million pilot lignite-to-briquettes plant in Southland last week. The Coal Action Network Aotearoa has criticised Deputy Prime Minister Bill English for supporting the use of "low-quality, dirty brown coal" which it said would cause a huge increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
At the forefront of environmentalists' concerns is the release of carbon into the atmosphere, while the Government and mining sector see coal and lignite as vast energy sources with huge economic benefits, regionally and nationally.
While operating separately, Solid Energy and Bathurst have adjoining coal tenements on the West Coast and have agreements to assist one another with infrastructure, access and transport arrangements - which could total four million tonnes of export coal between them every year.
Dual-listed Bathurst has spent more than $100 million getting to this consented stage, but in that time has raised about $242 million for the project, which covers 10,000ha of tenements but is at present targeting 200ha of the southern escarpment of the Denniston plateau.
Subject to the Environment Court challenge, Bathurst wanted to begin production by the end of the year and ramp up to full production of two million tonnes by the end of next year.
Coking coal is a key ingredient in steel making and is in demand from Asian economies.
Bathurst's resource consents came with many conditions, which the company has said are palatable, and claims its rehabilitation and replanting of the landscape would leave it looking original to the untrained eye.
On Bathurst's plans, West Coast Environment Network spokeswoman Karen Mayhew said the open-cast mining would dig up a rare landscape and habitat for threatened species.
"This mine would more than double New Zealand's coal exports. Once the coal is dug up, the release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere is guaranteed," she said.
"Given the scientific consensus on climate change and its impacts, we consider that this issue should have been considered properly by the resource consent commissioners."
Mayhew said the network's appeal would be based on ecological, climate and economic grounds and the group hopes to have eminent Nasa climate scientist James Hansen appear via a video-conference link.
On Solid Energy, Network Aotearoa spokeswoman Frances Mountier said developing lignite was significant for New Zealand because of the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
And it was hugely significant to eastern Southland because of the damage large-scale lignite mining would cause to air quality, living conditions, and the high-quality rivers and streams on which Southland depended.
- Otago Daily Times