The Bylong community, determined to protect farmland and heritage values, has today applied to join legal proceedings to defend the Independent Planning Commission’s (IPC) decision to reject the destructive KEPCO coal mine.
It follows a shock move yesterday, with the IPC announcing it was not taking an active role in defending the judicial review brought by KEPCO against its original decision.
A directions hearing into the matter was held in Sydney today.
In September last year, the IPC ruled the risks posed by the proposed coal mine to water, land, and future generations through its contribution to climate change were too great.
However, the IPC was recently weakened following a concerted spin campaign by the NSW Minerals Council, and the withdrawal of the IPC from an active role in the case raises fears that political pressure may now reverse the planning authority’s original ruling.
The Bylong Valley Protection Alliance (BVPA), represented by the Environmental Defenders Office, is now seeking to ensure the mine does not again threaten soils that are in the top 3.5 per cent in the state or put the climate at risk through dangerous downstream emissions.
Bylong farmer and President of BVPA Phillip Kennedy said, “We’re shocked to hear that neither the IPC or the NSW Government are going to actively defend this case against KEPCO, and so we feel our community has been forced to step up.
“We can’t believe it’s left to communities like ours to defend the rule of law against mining giants in NSW. It seems bizarre for the farmland and water resources of our valley to be left defenceless.
“We have been fighting against this mine proposal for many years but what’s at stake is so important to us and everyone in NSW - healthy soils, rich heritage and a safe climate.
“At a time when extreme weather has caused chaos throughout so much of NSW, we have been able to continue farming here, producing food and fodder not just for the cities, but for drought affected regions as well.
“To allow the Bylong Valley to be ripped up for a thermal coal mine would be just wrong, and if our governments and public authorities won’t stand up to protect it, we certainly will.”
Georgina Woods from Lock the Gate Alliance said, “It’s incredibly disappointing the IPC has washed its hand of this matter and is not going to defend its own decision in court.
“Put together, the Government’s Bill in parliament to weaken climate change considerations for coal mines, the overhaul of the IPC announced this month, and this backwards step in court is a very disturbing pattern of downplaying climate impacts from coal, even as NSW deals with its devastating consequences in the form of fire, flood and drought.”
Bizarrely, KEPCO’s legal challenge comes after its Korean-based board decided last week that the Bylong proposal “has no value” and wrote it down to zero.
The hearing on whether to accept the BVPA’s application will happen on February 28, while the case hearing will be held on August 24-27.
The reasons for refusing consent for the Bylong coal mine can be found in a detailed, 146-page Statement of Reasons published by the IPC. The key reasons were summarised by the IPC in their media release at the time as:
the groundwater impacts would be unacceptable
no evidence to support the Applicant’s claim that impacted Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land (BSAL) can be rehabilitated post-mining to BSAL-equivalent
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
greenhouse gas aspects of the Project remain problematical.