22 September, 2016

Unacceptable that coal mine assessment is being based on secret biodiversity offset rules

The Baird government has hit a new low with revelations it is using a “secret” planning assessment tool that has never been made public to assess biodiversity impacts of a major new coal mine near Singleton in the Hunter Valley. [1]

The United Wambo Open Cut Coal Mine Project will destroy 464 hectares of bushland, half of which is Central Hunter Valley Eucalypt Forest, a federally listed endangered ecosystem that is home to Koala, Spotted-tailed quoll, and other threatened species.

“It is utterly scandalous that the Baird government is using a policy that only public servants and mining companies have seen to assess the biodiversity impacts of a massively destructive project,” Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said.

“We can have no faith that biodiversity values of the Hunter are being properly considered when the public does not even know what criteria is being used to assess the impacts of this project.

“Where is the commitment to transparency and openness? Where is the commitment to good governance? Where is the commitment to preventing extinctions of our unique wildlife? The planning system in NSW has hit a new low.”

The application, which has been developed in close consultation with the Planning Department, proposes using rehabilitated mine site to meet 56% of its biodiversity offset required for the Central Hunter Valley Eucalypt Forest.

“That is an extraordinary overuse of mine rehab given that scientists have raised serious concerns about the ability to rehabilitate degraded mine lands. It doesn’t even meet the NSW Government’s poor offsets policy for mines,” Ms Smolski said.

“This proposal has been developed in close consultation with the Department of Planning and OEH. These departments have collaborated in the development of a proposal that plainly breaches the government’s own standards and threatens to make endangered species locally extinct.

“The significant uncertainty around the biodiversity assessment and offsetting rules that apply to the project means this project should not proceed until the Upper Hunter Strategic Assessment is finalised and made publicly available.

“We demand that the government use only laws that have been subject to public scrutiny and comment to assess any development proposals in NSW.”

References 

[1] http://www.theherald.com.au/story/4181616/mnine/?cs=305 

Background

  • United Collieries Pty Limited (United) and Wambo Coal Pty Limited (Wambo) operate neighbouring mining operations about 16km west of Singleton in the Hunter Valley. (Google Map)
  • They hope to develop the United Wambo Open Cut Coal Mine Project by combining the existing open cut operations at Wambo with a proposed new open cut coal mine at United, extracting 150 million tonnes (Mt) of run-of-mine coal over 23 years.
  • The development will result in clearing 464 hectares of bushland, half of which is Central Hunter Valley Eucalypt Forest, a critically endangered ecological community under the Commonwealth Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act that could become extinct in 45-60 years if threats (like mining) continue. 
  • The forest is habitat for Koala, Spotted-tailed quoll, which are nationally listed threatened species.
  • The proponent plans to meet 56% of the required biodiversity offset credits for Central Hunter Valley Eucalypt forest through mine rehabilitation. NSW offset policy allows for 25% of offsets on mine rehab.
  • This proposal has been developed in close consultation with the Department of Planning and OEH. These departments have collaborated in the development of a proposal that plainly breaches the government’s own standards and threatens to make endangered species locally extinct.
  • Link to the project page on the Planning Department website: http://www.majorprojects.planning.nsw.gov.au/index.pl?action=view_job&job_id=7142

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