The Southern District Health Board has
called on experts in air and water quality to analyse the
public health risks of Solid Energy's proposed
coal-briquetting demonstration plant near Mataura.
The plant will process about 148,000 tonnes of low-grade
lignite coal annually and turn it into higher-quality fuel
If the demonstration plant operates successfully, larger
plants could be built in the future. Solid Energy and other
companies are also investigating establishing plants to
convert lignite into diesel, nitrogen fertiliser and
The Gore District Council decided earlier this month not to
allow general public submissions on the briquetting resource
consent application, a decision which attracted a storm of
However, Environment Southland, which has responsibility for
water and air-quality consent, decided on limited
notification for its part of the application and identified
the SDHB as one of 12 affected parties.
In a report to be presented at a SDHB meeting next week,
acting chief executive Lexie O'Shea said the board had the
option of approving, opposing or taking a neutral stance on
The public health service held the view the application could
generate considerable public interest because of the
potential for a significantly larger number of mining and
processing applications in the future, she said.
The application had been forwarded to experts in air and
"The intention is that they will be able to provide us with
analyses of both the public health risks of the demonstration
plant as well as recommendations on mitigating those public
Submissions close on June 14.
Given the high public interest in the application and the
approaching deadline, Ms O'Shea recommended the board convene
a subcommittee to consider the application and the board's
Green Party lignite spokesman Gareth Hughes has written to
the SDHB and other affected parties urging them to object to
"I want to urge you to speak on behalf of future generations
of New Zealanders and say no to this 19th century proposal,"
he said in the letter, which he released to the Otago
Daily Times yesterday.
The Green Party strenuously opposes mining lignite, saying
large-scale mining and processing could increase New
Zealand's carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 10 million
tonnes a year, thus contributing to global warming.
At the Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009, New
Zealand said it would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by
10%-20% by 2020. To meet that promise, New Zealand needed to
decrease emissions by more than 20 million tonnes a year, not
increase it, Mr Hughes said.
Under current legislation, new lignite-processing plants
could well qualify for substantial taxpayer carbon credit
subsidies, he said.
On Thursday Mr Hughes launched a member's Bill seeking a
change in legislation removing those subsidies.
Nonetheless, it would be too late to stop the demonstration
plant, Mr Hughes said. But there was still "plenty of time"
to stop future plants, he said.