The activity at the New Vale mine, near Gore, comes two months after Greenpeace highlighted Fonterra’s role in rainforest destruction by using palm kernel based animal feed.
Lignite coal from the mine is used to power four milk dehydrators at Edendale, the world’s largest milk processing plant. In September a new dehydrator was commissioned increasing Edendale’s lignite coal consumption by 60 per cent and Fonterra’s overall coal use by 17 per cent.
Lignite coal is one of the dirtiest fossil fuels. In the coming year Edendale will burn 179,000 tonnes of lignite which contributes to the release of over 250,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. This is the same as the emissions from more than 87,000 cars in one year.
At dawn on November 17, activists unfurled a massive 40 by 40 metre banner reading 'Fonterra Climate Crime' on the ground of the opencast mine. Other activists blocked one of the entrances and locked themselves to some of the excavating machinery.
Greenpeace climate campaigner Simon Boxer said just weeks out from the Copenhagen international climate talks Fonterra remained the biggest block to New Zealand doing its bit on climate change.
"The Government needs to bring Fonterra under control. Fonterra always goes for the cheapest alternative like dirty lignite coal for energy or unsustainable palm kernel, grown at the expense of Indonesian rainforests, for animal feed. This is being driven by its intensification of dairying in New Zealand. It would be in Fonterra and New Zealand’s interests to preserve the land and our clean green brand."
By being exempt from the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), until 2015, agricultural greenhouse gas emitters are currently receiving a $1.1 billion subsidy from taxpayers.
"This is a direct subsidy that will allow Fonterra to continue to increase its greenhouse gas emissions at the expense of the taxpayer.Boxer said Fonterra was putting profit before the climate.
"Fonterra should take responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It could start by changing to alternative fuels, stop imports of palm kernel animal feed and encouraging lower intensity farming practices to provide a secure base for our industry, our economy and our environment."
Fonterra processes milk from 95 per cent of New Zealand dairy farmers and had made a deliberate choice to power its milk dehydrators using carbon emitting fossil fuels.
"In its submissions to the Electricity Market Review, Fonterra criticised renewable energy resources, advocating instead for expanding coal use. Now the Government is looking at changing the rules to allow mining of conservation land."
Fonterra is one of the biggest coal users in New Zealand with eight of its milk processing plants burning approximately 450,000 tonnes per year.