Coal Rocks On, Features

Bylong Valley saved from coalmine

Bylong Valley. Lock the Gate.

By Eve Sinton • Fossil Fool Bulletin 2.41, 20 September 2019

In an historic victory, the Bylong Valley Protection Alliance, represented by the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO NSW), was thrilled by the Independent Planning Commission’s rejection Kepco’s proposed greenfield Bylong coal mine this week.

David Morris, EDO NSW CEO, said, “This is another significant step towards avoiding dangerous climate change. We assisted our client, the Bylong Valley Protection Alliance, to put forward equivalent expert evidence to that relied on by the Land and Environment Court when it refused the Rocky Hill coal mine at Gloucester in February.

“It is clearer than ever that the Rocky Hill judgment sets a best-practice standard when considering new fossil fuel developments. This mine would have been even bigger – in fact much bigger – than Rocky Hill, with concomitantly bigger carbon impacts. In helping to stop this development, we acted in the public interest to constrain emissions and climate change impacts.”

Adverse effects outweigh short-term gain

Warwick Pearse, Secretary of the Bylong Valley Protection Alliance, said, “The IPC is to be applauded for recognising the need to consider the climate impacts of new coal projects. The serious threats to water and agriculture in the Bylong Valley have also been recognised by the IPC and they have decided that the long term, adverse and irreversible effects of coal mining in the Bylong Valley outweigh the short-term gain in local jobs.”

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said, “This is the right decision from the Commission and it shows New South Wales is getting its priorities right, safeguarding strategic farmland and water resources from destruction and depletion for coal mining.

“The Bylong Valley is a very special place, not just for the farmers that produce wool, beef, and fodder there, but for people around the state that recognise its extraordinary beauty and rich cultural and natural heritage.”

The Bylong proposal was for both open-cut and underground longwall mining. Kepco claimed the mine would inject more than $300 million into the state economy, extracting 120 million tonnes of coal over 25 years, and would have created 650 jobs during construction and 450 during production

The proposed mine had been recommended for approval by the then NSW Department of Planning and Environment, which makes the IPC refusal particularly notable.

Heritage-listed Tarwyn Park, where natural sequence farming was pioneered. Now owned by Kepco, its future is uncertain. Photo: Lock the Gate

What the IPC found

In its Statement of Reasons for Decision, the Commission found (in summary):

• the groundwater impacts would be unacceptable;

• no evidence to support the Applicant’s claim that impacted Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land (BSAL) can be rehabilitated post-mining to BSAL-equivalent;

• given the expected level of disturbance to the existing natural landscape, the Commission does not consider that a recreated landscape post-mining will retain the same aesthetic, scenic, heritage and natural values; and

• greenhouse gas aspects of the Project remain problematical.

“The Project is not in the public interest because it is contrary to the principles of ESD (ecologically sustainable development) – namely intergenerational equity because the predicted economic benefits would accrue to the present generation but the long-term environmental, heritage and agricultural costs will be borne by the future generations,” the Commission said.

Reports today from Korean news agencies suggesting Kepco appears unlikely to make any appeal against the IPC’s decision.

The company says it has not decided whether it would file an administrative action, resubmit the application, or entirely abandon the project.

13,000 ha bought up by Kepco

On Wednesday Muswellbrook mayor Martin Rush called on the NSW Government to start immediate talks with Kepco about the future of 13,000 hectares of Bylong Valley farmland bought by the company, in what Warwick Pearse called the “silencing of dissent” because of gag orders.

Amongst Kepco’s purchases in the valley is the historic Tarwyn Park property where natural sequence farming was pioneered.

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