A warning for all Canberrans: closing the 3rd of April is a consultation on FOY Group Ltd’s plans to build an oil refinery in Hume ACT that has been rejected in NSW. Do you want an oil refinery in your backyard? Don’t miss your chance to have your voice heard.
The Greens aren’t what they used to be.
At some point not too long ago, the party of the intellectuals and radicals started wearing suits, drifted to the right, and became more corporate. Anyone that has been to a university campus or environmentalist meeting has heard such complaints.
FOY’s planned plant would convert plastics into fuel. The facility would heat waste plastics to high temperatures like an oil refinery and siphon off gas, petrol, and diesel. The company proposes to process 200 tons of plastic a day from Sydney and Melbourne. On-site they can store 1.9 million litres of fuel.
The plant was first planned in NSW, but rejected by the Environmental Protection Agency. Subsequently, FOY has tried setting up shop in the ACT, to the disdain of residents and local business owners alike.
But the response of the ACT Greens to the pending fossil fuel plant has been milquetoast and weak. One would have thought that a fossil fuel plant near residential areas was a straightforward no-fly zone for the party of the environment.
But thus far, the Greens have only expressed “concerns” and backed the Labor-led government’s call for an expert panel to review the situation.
“There are still a lot of unanswered questions around this proposed facility,” said Shane Rattenbury MLA. “There’s no real clear answer at this stage, we do … need to really investigate.”
But expressing concern is not the same thing as expressing opposition; the Greens could and should do more. Their failure to do so thus far is a missed opportunity to lead on an issue that should have been theirs.
FOY, by now well acclimatised to public opposition, has set in motion a slick and well-oiled PR campaign aimed at selling its proposals to a sceptical Canberra.
The company’s marketing has cast its technology as cutting edge, and its planned refinery process as exposing Canberrans to negligible harmful emissions. The company has argued that there are environmental benefits to the planned facility, saying it will vanish waste plastic that would otherwise end as landfill and produce road-ready fuel without digging or drilling.
The company’s claims stand on shaky ground and should be firmly challenged by The Greens, if not rejected outright.
For one, FOY’s claim that it is helping solve a plastic problem is mostly an accounting trick. There is unquestionably a waste plastic problem as anyone who has witnessed Canberra’s curbsides will affirm. But the plastics used at the refinery would be brought from interstate, thus solving a problem that isn’t Canberra’s.
The company’s claim to be processing “end-of-life” and non-recyclables is equally questionable, having no support in the recycling options for these plastics set out by The Plastics and Chemical Industries Association. An independent expert asked for comment by The RiotACT said that the plastics FOY plans to use were recyclable. It remains unclear how FOY is solving a plastic problem that recycling cannot.
Most important of all, however, is the company’s claim that its facility will expose Canberrans to negligible harmful emissions is as yet unproven. There is no independent data on what the facility’s emissions profile would look like. Residents have rightly voiced their fears and objections.
In all, there seems much to the claim of Dr Chris Klootwijk’s, an environmental researcher at ANU, that “there seems little benefit in converting these plastics back to fossil fuels, besides FOY’s profits”.
The ACT is the only state or territory in which the Greens form part of the ruling government. Canberrans are right to expect that elected environmentalists act in the interests of the environment.
In opposing FOY’s plant, The Greens would have the support of the public, much of the Canberran press and much of its political class. What are they waiting for?
Are you a resident likely to be affected by FOY’s planned facility? You can contact the expert panel at firstname.lastname@example.org or find the politician representing you at http://www.parliament.act.gov.au/members/find-your-members
Pictured above are Caroline Le Couteur and Shane Rattenbury of the Greens with ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and his deputy Yvette Berry last October. Photo: Charlotte Harper