(Bloomberg) — For Ann Taylor, the idea that Australia’s colossal coal industry should be tamed is risible. Taylor is mayor of a council in Queensland state that already hosts 26 mines. She wants more added from the nearby Galilee Basin, a coal-rich area about the size of the U.K. that, if fully developed, could more than double Australia’s exports of the fuel.
“We’re absolutely pro-coal mining and proud of it—that’s why we’re here,” Taylor said in her office in Moranbah, a town of 8,000 people that owes its half-century existence to the industry. “There’s a lot of life left in coal.”
Coal is Australia’s second-largest income generator after iron ore, and many lawmakers welcome efforts to boost an industry that brings in A$60 billion ($42 billion) a year. None more so than Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who as the country’s treasurer two years ago brandished a lump of coal in parliament, taunting lawmakers from the opposition Labor party that they were scared of the fuel because they favored more cuts to carbon emissions.
As elections near on May 18, polls suggest that Labor leader Bill Shorten may now have the advantage over Morrison’s conservative government, with energy and the environment a key political dividing line.
Yet there’s a limit to how far Shorten is willing to antagonize the coal industry. For even in the world’s driest inhabited continent, the imperatives of boosting revenue and economic growth are trumping concerns about the negative effects of man-made climate change.