New coalmines approved in NSW food bowl

February 13, 2015
Gunnedah farmers show NSW Premier Mike Baird their opposition the Shenhua Watermark project. 

Three new coalmines have been approved by the New South Wales Planning Assessment Commission, just weeks before the state election.

The new coalmines will be in Bengalla, near Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley, the Watermark Coal Project, near Gunnedah on the Liverpool Plains and Moolarben, north-east of Mudgee.

The extension to Rio Tinto’s Bengalla mine will allow for the extraction of 15 million tons (Mt) of coal a year for 24 years, doubling the mine’s current output. There is already a large mining complex in the Hunter region, with Mount Arthur coal to the south of Bengalla, Mangoola Coal to the west and Mount Pleasant, still to become operational, to the north.

Reacting to the news, Steve O’Brien, the Socialist Alliance candidate for the lower house seat of Newcastle in the state election, said: “There should be no new coalmines. Full stop. No new coalmines. That’s it. We need to start the transition to renewables now.”

O’Brien described the plans as “absolute lunacy”, saying, “what we really should be doing is looking towards a transition. Regions such as the Hunter Valley need to be getting out of coal mines and establishing more sustainable futures.”

The development by Shenhua of the new Watermark Coal Project on the Liverpool Plains would allow for the extraction of 10 Mt of coal per year for 30 years.

Susan Price, Socialist Alliance candidate for Summer Hill said: “The Liverpool Plains is NSW’s food bowl. Some of the richest farming land in the state is now being put directly under threat by these proposals. It will impact on farming communities and on our food production.”

This was noted in the commission’s report, which admitted that the favourable climate and soil conditions contribute to a high production rate, up 40% above the average for Australian farming regions.

Georgina Woods, the NSW coordinator for Lock the Gate, said the farmers “had reasonable expectations that a decision would be made to protect those important food lands and water sources that support them”. As a result, farmers “are up in arms”, and “are certainly not going to lie down and let the coal industry roll over the top of the region”.

The extension to Yancoal’s Moolarben mine near Mudgee was granted conditional approval, allowing the extraction of 16 Mt a year of coal for 24 years.

“There are still big questions about the outstanding commitment to protect The Drip, which is the really important rock formation next to the Goulburn River National Park. Under this proposal it still hasn’t been protected,” said Woods.

Woods said that overall Lock the Gate are, “disappointed but not surprised. It demonstrates that the law around mining approval in NSW is incapable of protecting the things people value.

“There is nowhere, except national parks, where mining isn’t allowed. Important water sources, irreplaceable agricultural soil and critically endangered woodlands are unprotected and there is no mechanism that the planning commission can use to save them.”

Price said: “The big question is in whose interest is this decision being made? Clearly it is not in the interest of communities; it is not in the interest of long-term job creation; it is not in the interest of sustainable energy production. I think the answer is, it is in the interest of the fossil fuel lobby and the big mining conglomerates.”

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