Week Two Blog – Environmental Decision Making

Reflecting on this weeks topic, Environmental Decision Making is an area I personally find very interesting. It’s far from a straight forward process because of a number of factors, particularly the battle between environmental, social and economic interests that tend to frame the arguments one way or another.

This is always in the news, but recently there was the approval of the Shenhua open cut coal mine in prime agricultural land in northern NSW.

http://www.smh.com.au/environment/giant-shenhua-watermark-coal-mine-wins-federal-approval-from-environment-minister-greg-hunt-20150708-gi7j65.html

What I find interesting about this particular decision is the conflict between competing economic interests. Often in the debate over these sort of approvals the trade off for an environmentally damaging development is the economic benefits, particuarly in the case of coal. In this case it is the economic interests of the mine vs the agriculture sector, vital also to Australias economy.

What else is noticeable is the framework in which the decision is made. There is great emphasis on the conditions, based on scientific results, that have been imposed as part of the approval. They don’t really deal with uncertainty, however. There’s not a real consideration of cumulative impacts, just threshold levels for different impacts. As the farmers in the article mentioned, there doesn’t seem to have been consideration for affecting the water supply itself, just amount of water being used.

These sort of articles really illustrate what is considered in environmental decision making, and the approach taken. They consider economic, scientific, environmental, social impacts but it is more an interdisciplinary manner than any transdisciplinary way of appraching the decision. It enables them to say everything has been considered but without really considering how each of these factors then interact with each other.

It’s not necessarily a bad decision (time will tell on that), I just think it’s quite short sighted when obviously agriculture is such a vital component of Australias future.

One Comment Add yours

  1. beckoreilly says:

    Shenhua Mine Week 2 blog IEST5003 Rebecca Sturrock

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-07-21/shenhua-mine-approval-divides-state-and-federal-nationals/6637988
    http://theconversation.com/shenhua-mine-the-federal-government-could-have-chosen-farming-over-coal-44654
    http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2015/07/10/abbott-again-excuses-joyces-shenhua-outburst

    I also found this mine approval particularly interesting with regards to EDM, framing and Stakeholder involvement. This approval has now become a challenge for the Coalition government given that two key Ministers have opposing views, approval from the Environment Minister Mr Greg Hunt and opposition from the Agricultural Minister Barnaby Joyce. I particularly like the comment in Jack’s article where Fiona Simpson from NSW Farmers notes that the approval came out the same day Minister Joyce was releasing the federal governments Agricultural Competitiveness white paper. Typically in response from the Coalition government would have the jobs vs economy as the main frame of argument for any mining matter. It was interesting to review the political response that we saw from the government after the Agricultural Minister voiced his opposition, the frame turned away from jobs and economy to Minsters rightly looking after their own portfolio’s. Prime Minister Tony Abbott who would normally be very quick to support the coal industry even downplaying the federal governments role

    From the stakeholder perspective, this is a very good example where stakeholders who would traditionally hold different views have united together e.g. farmers and greens are on the same side of the argument. Very similar to the CSG debate. I think that the Nationals and Greens are going to come across this union more often with mining applications.

    http://theconversation.com/shenhua-mines-water-uncertainty-means-we-should-proceed-with-caution-44988
    This conversation article lists the science which has been reviewed, the Independent Expert Scientific Committee for water state that they still have concerns on the report and some areas of deficiencies in the report. If we consider the stakeholder engagement process, this article does not give me confidence that all stakeholders would feel the process was undertaken with empowerment, equity, trust and learning, or that relevant participation was considered as early as possible (Reed, 2008).

    This article also sums up what is becoming clearer to the voting public in the final paragraph “Both the economic and environmental risks of continued expansion of coal mining for export in Australia have been highlighted recently. Whether the warnings are heeded may have enormous future consequences”

    http://theconversation.com/shenhua-mine-the-federal-government-could-have-chosen-farming-over-coal-44654
    Finally following the fight back from the Minister of Agriculture and farmers after awarding approval of the mine, the Environment Minister seemed to almost back flip on his decision. Mr Hunt stating he had no choice based on the law but to approve this mine. See the last paragraph of the above article from the conversation. This statement does not provide a great deal of confidence in the Environmental Decision Making process if the applicant in this case Shenhua Mining with a poor environmental track record can push through the opening of a mine without consideration of the environment, water, health, social costs and waste management.

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