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Australia minister reassures coal industry

Sept. 13, 2010 at 2:59 PM   |   Comments

CANBERRA, Australia, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Australia's new climate change minister aimed to reassure the country's coal mining sector of its vital role in the country's economy.

Greg Combet, a former coal engineer and union official, replaced Penny Wong in the post in Prime Minister Julia Gillard's new Cabinet announced Saturday.

"You do not take the back of the ax to the fundamentals of the Australian economy," Combet told The Australian newspaper Monday.

"I've got a responsibility to support those people's jobs. The coal industry is a very vibrant industry with a strong future," Combet said.

Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal.

Combet outlined three top priorities in his new post: to continue support for renewable energy, promote energy efficiency in households and businesses and pave the way for an introduction of a carbon price.

Australia has surpassed the United States as the world's biggest per capita carbon emitter.

The issue of carbon was pivotal in the political demise of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who had shelved his carbon emissions trading scheme in April and was ousted in June.

"What you've got to do is look to how we can achieve, in the longer term, things like carbon capture and storage for coal-fired power stations," Combet said, The Australian newspaper reports.

The Green Party agreed earlier this month to support Gillard's Labor Party in return for the formation of a dedicated climate change committee charged with establishing a price on carbon.

In her campaign, Gillard said she would ban new coal-fired power stations that are inefficient and introduce rules requiring any power station build to be retrofitted with carbon capture and storage technology.

The Greens are opposed to the development of any new coal mines or the expansion of existing mines. They also want to phase out existing coal subsidies.

Greens leader Bob Brown has likened Australia to a heroin addict "feeding the habit" of the world's reliance on coal.

Combet -- who has been dubbed ''Mr. Fix-It" -- in describing his style of tackling climate change, said it would involve ''discussion, negotiation, consultation (and) building consensus," he told The Age newspaper, noting that he wouldn't prejudge any policy outcome.

Combet also noted that Australia's "continuing and active role in the international response to climate change" was also an important priority, saying he expects to attend the next round of climate change talks in December in Cancun, Mexico.

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