Freedom of information documents obtained by Lock the Gate Alliance reveal that eleventh hour changes were made to a vital mining policy after lobbying by the coal industry, forcing landholders to live with severe noise and dust impacts from coal mines, with no way out.
The changes were made to the NSW Government’s controversial “Voluntary Acquisition and Mitigation Policy” for mining projects in late 2014, just prior to the approval of the Shenhua Watermark coal mine on the Liverpool Plains.
The effect of the changes was that:
- Controls on dangerous coal dust pollution, which are a threat to human health, were severely reduced against the advice of the NSW Environment Protection Authority
- Large numbers of landholders living with noise and dust from adjoining coal mines lost the option of land purchase by mining companies, potentially leaving them stranded in unliveable situations.
The documents show the draft policy was changed the day before it was released for public feedback, more than a week after it had been approved by the Land Use Subcommittee of Cabinet, and following meetings by the NSW Minerals Council with the NSW Premier and Resources Minister.
Lock the Gate spokesperson Georgina Woods said, "These documents suggest that the mining industry has used its extraordinary influence to fatally weaken a policy that is trapping people with air pollution that is damaging their health.
"This is a policy which allows unacceptable levels of dust and noise and then leaves families with no way to escape them – stranding them as 'collateral damage' from a coal mining industry that is out of control.
"The NSW Government should immediately revoke this tainted policy and instead introduce measures to strictly protect the health of families and communities. We’re calling on Premier Baird to act on this immediately.
"These policy changes were clearly designed to smooth the way for the damaging Shenhua coal mine proposal, which will open cut a vital national foodbowl on the Liverpool Plains.
"While affected farmers were harvesting their crops in 2014, it is now evident that the NSW Government was making secret changes to its policies to suit the Chinese Government and the mining lobby.
"This should raise alarm bells for people across NSW who value a fair go and basic health protections for families and communities," Ms Woods said.
For a briefing on the backstory to the Acquisition Policy and the GIPA documents obtained by Lock the Gate, click here.
Read the Sydney Morning Herald story about how the Resources and Energy Division of the Department of Industry removed trigger values for the most health-damaging fone particulates from the policy.
About the Acquisition Policy
The Voluntary Acquisition and Mitigation Policy is highly contentious in mining affected communities, since it leaves many rural landholders suffering the effects of noise and dust, wanting to leave the area to escape those affects, but unable to find purchasers at any price. Prior to the policy’s gazettal in December 2014, it had become common practice for the Department of Planning and the Planning and Assessment Commission to recommend and grant “acquisition rights” to landholders surrounding large scale mining projects, rather than requiring mining projects to operate in a manner that did not create unliveable noise and dust pollution.
In its review of the Watermark coal mine in August 2014, the Planning and Assessment Commission proposed conditions for the mine that would have greatly increased the number of properties where the owner had the right to demand that they be bought out, because of the intensity of the dust and noise impacts. The Department of Planning had proposed that only 11 property owners surrounding the mine would have this right, but the PAC insisted that all properties where the PM10 standard was expected to be exceeded should be able to sell-out to the mine if they chose. This more than doubled the number of properties in the acquisition zone to 25.
Other large-scale mining projects approved in the last five years have given acquisition rights to significant numbers of properties, but the practice has always been contentious. On the one hand, it leaves some landholders stranded, experiencing significant levels of pollution but unable to sell, and on the other, it empties rural communities to the point where some have had their population literally decimated by coal mine buy-outs. For the Anvil Hill/Mangoola mine, 36 properties were in the acquisition area. At Mount Owen, it affected 18 properties and at nearby Mount Pleasant, 47 properties are within the acquisition area. The most recent Bengalla expansion approval had 21 properties within the acquisition area.
Rather than force the mining companies to work at civilised hours, and curtail their scale and rate production so that they do not breach air quality and noise standards, the Department of Planning has simply been allowing standards to be breached and forcing people to sell up and leave their communities to get away from it.
To see the full brief about the genesis of NSW's mining Acquisition Policy, click here.