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South Wales: Fighting opencast coal mines
Merthyr Tydfil, south Wales
“The dust from the mine soils people’s washing and coats every flat surface. Merthyr already has sky-high rates of lung disease.”
For over a decade, the tight knit community of Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales has been fighting tirelessly against opencast coal mining - huge open pits that scar the landscape and massive earth moving machinery that raises large quantities of dust into the air, damaging the environment and local people’s health.
Community campaigners achieved their biggest victory in June of this year, defeating plans for a controversial new coal mine that would have caused massive amounts of pollution for decades to come.
Inspirational campaigner, Alyson Austin, a member of the United Valleys Action Group and Merthyr Friends of the Earth, spoke to us about the incredible community achievement and why the fight continues.
Can you imagine what it’s like to live on the edge of an opencast coal mine? Because that’s where I live – next to the Ffos-y-fran opencast coal mine that overshadows the town of Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales. The dust from the mine soils people’s washing and coats every flat surface. The noise is incessant and all pervasive, it drives you insane and there is no escape from it. Merthyr already has sky-high rates of lung disease.
For years we have campaigned against the coal mine. The company that runs it has dug out 5 million tonnes of coal from it so far, and is set to extract another 6 million tonnes before they’re done – a noisy, dirty, barbaric industry that is devastating the local landscape.
And then we heard the news that the same mining company wanted to dig another vast opencast coalmine on the other side of the hill, at Nant Llesg. There was no way we were going to let that happen.
Welsh coal kick-started the industrial revolution. That’s a proud part of our heritage, but it’s history now and it’s time to move on to cleaner, greener, and less destructive sources of energy. We just can’t go on digging up more and more coal – we need to leave 80% of all fossil fuels in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change.
So we decided we needed to take action.
In May this year, Welsh Assembly Members voted for a moratorium on opencast coal mining in Wales, but the government here has so far ignored this democratic decision.
We started a petition asking the Welsh Minister for Natural Resources, Carl Sargeant, to block the proposed new Nant Llesg coal mine and accept the moratorium that the Assembly had already voted for.
Within a few weeks thousands of people had signed up, showing the huge swell of public support against the plans.
But we knew that the final decision would come down to a meeting of Caerphilly County Councillors which took place in August this year. Thankfully, the commitment and drive of our community campaigners paid off and the council unanimously voted to reject the mine – a victory for people power and the climate.
However, the fight is not over, as the coal mining company may yet appeal the decision. The local community have battled long and hard against this opencast coal mine proposal, and its legacy of pollution, devastation and disruption.
Our community will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder to oppose opencast coal mining and we now urge the Welsh Government to take heed and implement a full moratorium on opencast coal in Wales. Our world is already dangerously overheating – we must make a change.