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August 08, 2012

Tell U.S. Ex-Im Bank: Don't Use Tax Payer Dollars to Destroy the Great Barrier Reef

The U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank) and its chairman, Fred Hochberg, are facing a big decision about a coal project in one of the world's most treasured places. Disturbing reports are emerging that the bank is considering financing a massive coal project in Australia with taxpayer money that would include an export terminal inside the Great Barrier Reef.

We need your help to put the brakes on this project now. This is only the latest in a string of coal projects supported by Ex-Im Bank that are harming communities and the environment in South Africa, India, and even here in Appalachia.

The project's backers, India-based GVK and Australia-based Hancock Coal, are telling various media outlets that Ex-Im is prepared to finance equipment for their massive Alpha mine in Australia's Galilee Basin. The Galilee Basin is ground zero for Australia's push to triple coal exports, a move that would put Australia well ahead of Saudi Arabia for total carbon exports. The planned projects from Hancock Coal, including the Alpha mine, would not only flood the international market with nearly 8 billion tons of coal (double China's current annual consumption) but also ravage one of the world's unique natural treasures -- the Great Barrier Reef.

It is this vast flow of dirty coal that caught the interest of GVK and prompted the Indian conglomerate to buy a majority stake in Hancock. That's because India is currently experiencing a coal crisis, as the high price of coal on the international market causes projects to go bankrupt or seek bailouts (like Tata Mundra).

Great Barrier Reef Coal Pic

But while the regional Queensland government was working to streamline approval for the Alpha Coal Project, UNESCO released a damning report that shows coal development is damaging the Great Barrier Reef. UNESCO then demanded that Australia take action to halt the project --or risk putting the reef's World Heritage Site status in jeopardy. Australia's Federal Environment Minster reacted by suspending the Queensland government's involvement in the project because he could not "trust them with the Great Barrier Reef."

Of course, expanded ports are hardly the only risk that the Alpha mine poses to the Great Barrier Reef. Coal is one of the most carbon-intense fuels in the world, and if climate change continues unabated, the reef could be destroyed by 2050

Financing from the Ex-Im Bank could make or break this project. Unfortunately, the Bank does not consider downstream emissions when assessing the carbon risks of proposed projects. In other words, Ex-Im Bank would only count the carbon released at the mine and associated transport, despite the fact that coal is mined and transported for the sole purpose of burning at another location. But even if Ex-Im Bank did consider downstream emissions, the bank doesn't care. It has already approved several of the world's most carbon-intensive coal projects (in violation of its own carbon policy).

There is some good news, though. While GVK has used the media to claim that Ex-Im Bank's involvement is a done deal, the bank has not yet publicly associated itself with the project or committed to financing.

That leaves us a small window of opportunity to save the reef. We must act now to send Fred Hochberg and Ex-Im Bank a message that we will not stand by while they use our taxpayer dollars to help destroy the Great Barrier Reef.

Join us in tweeting: @fredhochberg you must #savethereef and quit #GVK/Alpha #coal; Move @EximBankUS @BeyondCoal!

-- co-written by Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign, and Justin Guay, Sierra Club's International Program.

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