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Byron Shire
May 13, 2021

Rocky Hill MKII – Climate impacts considered in refusing Bylong mine

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Yesterday in another win for the environment, the Independent Planning Commission rejected the greenfield Bylong coal mine, in part because of its projected Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

The proposed mine near the famous Tarwyn Park at Bylong has been a battleground between the community, their supporters, and mining company KEPCO Bylong Australia Pty Ltd. The proposal was for a mine with a life of 25 years, including both open-cut and underground longwall mining in a rural area.

Warning sign: protests against the Bylong Valley mine. Photo Farmonline

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

This the first IPC decision in relation to a greenfield coal mine since the judgment of February 2019, when Groundswell Gloucester successfully stopped the Rocky Hill coal mine, partly on the basis of expert climate science evidence.

The Commission

Commissioners Gordon Kirkby (Panel Chair), Wendy Lewin and Stephen O’Connor were appointed to determine the state significant development application.

They met with the Applicant, the Department, Mid-Western Regional and Muswellbrook Shire Councils and the Bylong Valley Protection Alliance to discuss the proposed mine and conducted an inspection of the site and surrounding area.

The Commission also held a public meeting in Mudgee to listen to the community’s views.

Key issues raised in oral and written submissions to the Commission included: the loss of prime agriculture land; air quality and greenhouse gas emissions; biodiversity; groundwater and surface water impacts; heritage impacts; noise and blasting; and, economic and social benefits, including job creation.

Environmental Defenders Office NSW (EDO) CEO David Morris said yesterday that on behalf of their client, the Bylong Valley Protection Alliance, the EDO warmly welcomes the decision. ‘This is another significant step towards avoiding dangerous climate change,’ he said. ‘We assisted 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.’

The proposed Rocky Hill mine site at Gloucester. Photo David Lowe

The Rocky Hill judgement

Morris said 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.’

Secretary of the Bylong Valley Protection Alliance Warwick Pearse, said yesterday that 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,’ he said.

In its Statement of Reasons for Decision, the Commission found that the groundwater impacts would be unacceptable; there was no evidence to support the Applicant’s claim that impacted Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land (BSAL) can be rehabilitated post-mining to BSAL-equivalent; that 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, that greenhouse gas aspects of the Project remain problematical.

The findings

While the Commission found the mine’s predicted air quality, biodiversity, noise, subsidence and visual impacts are acceptable and/or can be effectively managed or mitigated, it raised significant concern about other longer-lasting environmental impacts.

The Commission concluded that 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.

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