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Covid-19 provides cover for NSW coal mine and gasfield plans

NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes’ push for the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) to proceed with public hearings during the covid-19 pandemic is has alarmed groups opposed to the Narrabri gasfield and the Vickery coal mine.

Stokes has instructed the IPC to continue with public hearings during the coronavirus crisis.

Lock the Gate NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said people could not be expected to fully engage in the assessment process of major resource projects during a health crisis.

She called on the Berejiklian Government to suspend the IPC assessments of Narrabri and Vickery until the pandemic was over.

“It is deeply disturbing Planning Minister Rob Stokes expects the Independent Planning Commission to press ahead with a public hearing for controversial projects like the Narrabri gasfield and Vickery coal mine in the context of a global pandemic,” she said.

People will miss having say on projects

“The Covid-19 outbreak is upending the lives of people globally and New South Wales is no exception.

People are frightened, and understandably so – the last thing many want to do is gather publicly, or miss out on their opportunity to have their say on these highly damaging projects.

“The Planning Minister cannot possibly expect the Commission can adequately or fairly undertake public consultation in this context.

“People in rural New South Wales have limited internet capacity and in towns and cities we are bracing for further disruption while we put all our efforts into limiting the spread of this virus.

“The Planning Minister needs to put public health and basic fairness first and allow the IPC to suspend its consideration of the Narrabri gasfield and Vickery coal mine until the pandemic has passed and people are able to fully participate, as is our right.”

North West Protection Advocacy (NWPA) said the Planning Minister has pitted himself against the many thousands of people, who have submitted, objected, protested and lobbied against coal seam gas for over 10 years, representing over 97% of 22,700 submissions to the Environmental Impact Statement for Santos’ Narrabri gasfield.

“Mr Stokes was under no legislative requirement to trigger a public hearing during this time of crisis (the worst in most peoples’ living memory and arguably since World War 2). His Ministerial powers under section 9.1(1) of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 provide that he “may direct” the Independent Planning Commission to initiate a Public Hearing. This discretion has been used irresponsibly and in defiance of the NSW Chief Scientist’s recommendations of the prerequisites needed to establish a safe coal seam gas industry in NSW,” NWPA said.

“February 2020  savaged the hopes of the industry with a damning report on the unreadiness of regulators to protect the State from the irreversible harms of coal seam gas mining. A Parliamentary Committee chaired by Shooters Farmers and Fishers Mark Banasiak MLC announced that the Government has not fulfilled 14 of the 16 Recommendations made by the NSW Chief Scientist which were the necessary safeguards against an industry notorious for its damage to groundwater, greenhouse gas emissions, human health implications and colossal toxic waste problems.”

Environmental crime of the century

NPWA said, “If the coal seam gas industry were to proceed under the present circumstances, it would be the environmental crime of the century. It would risk vast areas of agricultural land dependent on groundwater that communities are 100% reliant upon. Gas expansion also promises to destroy the hopes of Australia achieving greenhouse gas targets this century.”

The group has urged people to write to Rob Stokes requesting a Ministerial reply at the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, Locked Bag 5022, Parramatta NSW 2124.

NPWA also suggests emailing the minister via the link
https://lockthegate.good.do/postpone/emailstokes/ 

and checking his Twitter account  @RobStokesMP and Facebook page: Rob Stokes MP / NSW Planning.

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