A MEMBER of the Rudd Government's group charged with rebuilding Australia's infrastructure says plans to double the coal export capacity in Newcastle should be abandoned.
Professor Peter Newman, who is a member of Infrastructure Australia, said the environmental damage done from burning coal meant the construction of new coal loading facilities in what is already the world's biggest coal exporting port should be stopped now.
"If I was in charge of coal loading facilities, I would say no, don't do it," Professor Newman said in an interview with the Herald.
Professor Newman also dismissed the Federal Government's $500 million commitment into researching clean coal technology, arguing there was little prospect the technology to capture and store carbon emissions would be developed sufficiently to make coal-fired power stations environmentally acceptable.
"I don't think the science on that is anywhere near that happening," he said. "In the US it's already disappearing … it's going to disappear along with nuclear fission."
Clean coal technology is one of the key pillars of the environment policies of Commonwealth and state Labor governments. While it has been criticised by environmentalists, Professor Newman's remarks dismissing its prospects are certain to embarrass these governments and the Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Anthony Albanese. Professor Newman is one of 11 members of the body Mr Albanese appointed last year to develop "a blueprint for unlocking infrastructure bottlenecks and modernising the nation's transport, water, energy and communications assets".
To boost coal exports Mr Rudd and Mr Albanese announced in December the Government would co-fund almost half of a $1.2 billion project with the private sector to expand Hunter Valley rail lines. Under the plan, six rail projects would help Newcastle double its coal exports within seven years.
Professor Newman predicted that while the coal industry would still be around in a decade, "there will be a painful transition" and "coal will be a declining export for Australia".