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THE Greens remain the only major political party committed to the introduction of covered coal wagons leading into the March state election.
Despite growing community concerns about the health impacts of air pollution, such as coal dust, the government remains opposed to forcing coal companies and rail operators to either physically cover or chemically seal wagons.
‘‘The advice to the NSW government from the independent Environment Protection Authority is that the current science does not support the covering of coal wagons,’’ Environment Minister Rob Stokes has said.
The Newcastle Herald, through its Great Cover-Up campaign, has been calling for the introduction of physically covered or chemically sealed coal wagons for the past two years. And a petition calling for the introduction of physically covered coal wagons, signed by 10,346 people, was tabled in NSW Parliament in November.
The ensuing debate heard that more than 30,000 people lived within 500 metres of the coal corridor between Rutherford and the Port of Newcastle and that 25,000 children attended school within that space.
Greens transport and environment spokeswoman Mehreen Faruqi said the Greens would introduce legislation into the new parliament requiring coal and transportation companies to cover coal wagons.
‘‘Communities around the state and especially the Hunter have been waiting long enough for a solution, so it is now time to act,’’ Dr Faruqi said.
She said the Greens would prefer to see wagons physically covered rather than veneered – or chemically sealed.
‘‘[Physically covered wagons] also minimise any dust emissions that result from inadequate washing of empty wagons,’’ Dr Faruqi said.
Eighty-eight community groups from across the state endorsed a petition last year that called for the introduction of physically covered wagons.
Labor is yet to form a firm position on covered coal wagons.
‘‘There are contradictory claims and evidence before the [parliamentary inquiry into the performance of the EPA] concerning the levels of air particle pollution from uncovered coal wagons compared to covered coal wagons,’’ Opposition Leader Luke Foley said. Mr Foley said he would clarify Labor’s position before the March election.
Although it does not support the introduction of covered coal wagons, Dr Stokes said the EPA was continuing to investigate how emissions from coal trains could be better managed.
‘‘Most recently the EPA has undertaken an audit of coal train loading and unloading facilities as well as completing an extensive literature review of management practices,’’ Mr Stokes said.
‘‘The EPA also continues to investigate issues such as diesel emissions from trains and veneering of coal wagons.’
This article first appeared on www.theherald.com.au
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