Community rejects Bylong Valley coalmine

Protest outside the Independent Planning Commission hearing on November 7. Photo: Coral Wynter

Protesters rallied outside an October 7 NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC) public hearing in Mudgee into plans to construct a huge new coalmine in the picturesque Bylong Valley, north-east of the regional town.

Local farmers, environmentalists and community members then entered the hearing to listen to about 60 verbal submissions, mostly against the proposal.

South Korean government-backed company Kepco is seeking to build a series of open-cut and underground mines in the valley with an expected lifespan of 25 years. The mines are estimated to be able to produce more than 6.5 million tonnes of coal a year.

The company has already spent more than $700 million preparing for the project, including purchasing many historic homes, farms and even the local school in the Bylong Valley.

Mudgee resident Robbin Binks, who was raised in Bylong, told the IPC hearing she strongly opposed the mine, and that Kepco had “divided, conquered and gagged” the area, and made it an “unpleasant place to live”.

The Nature Conservation Council of NSW’s Keith Hart told the hearing that while "coal is the largest single contributor to climate change on an international scale”, Australia remains the world’s biggest coal exporter.

“Australia now has a responsibility to seriously tackle climate change … To do so, we must leave 90% of the country's coal reserves in the ground,” Hart said.

“The Nature Conservation Council totally objects to approval of the Bylong Coal proposal. Coal mines have now completely lost their social licence, and no new mines must be opened.”

Lock the Gate spokesperson Georgina Woods made a submission criticising the NSW Department of Planning for failing to provide the IPC with analysis about the climate change implications of the Bylong mine.

“This is crucial information for the commission. Whatever Kepco's claims about the likelihood that there will be demand for coal from this mine, New South Wales government policy states that the government ‘endorses the Paris Agreement and will take action that is consistent with the level of effort to achieve Australia's commitments to the Paris Agreement’.

“The commission's role here is not to decide the likelihood of competing claims about future coal demand coming to pass, but to assess this project against New South Wales government law and policy," Woods noted.

Other speakers against the mine included representatives of Doctors for the Environment, the Bylong Valley Protection Alliance, the Hunter Environment Lobby and Farmers for Climate Action.

The commission has received more than 360 written submissions on the proposed mine. It is due to make its decision by the end of the year.

[For more information on the campaign visit www.lockthegate.org.au.]