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Coal project could condemn four animal species to extinction: NSW Government

The expansion of a Yancoal-owned thermal coal mine near Mudgee could condemn four animal species and an entire ecological community to extinction, according to a NSW Government submission.

The government’s Environment and Heritage Group’s response to the Moolarben coal mine expansion provides an immediate example of the dire state of NSW’s biodiversity in light of the Henry review of the state’s biodiversity laws.

Published late last week, the Henry review warns half of the species under threat in the state are on course to become extinct within the next 100 years and recommends an overhaul of the system to prevent further loss, including a veto power for the Environment Minister for projects with threats of this scale.

The EHG’s response to Yancoal’s expansion notes: “there is a real possibility that the proposed project, if approved as currently presented, would significantly contribute to [four animal species and one critically endangered ecological community] becoming extinct in NSW.

Yancoal wants to dig five new coal pits, which would expand the mine into a secluded and biodiversity rich valley, surrounded on three sides by the Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve. The expansion would allow Yancoal to mine 40 million tonnes of thermal coal, and would be responsible for a total of 86.6 million tonnes of CO2-e, including when the coal is burnt. 

The valley is home to some of the last remaining populations of the critically endangered Regent Honeyeater, Broad-headed Snake, Large-eared Pied Bat, Eastern Cave Bat and the Box Gum Woodland ecological community. 

The government agency’s submission also highlights the threat Yancoal’s expansion poses to a “climate-robust” koala population in the valley, which “has survived recent and historical temperature increases, drought and bushfires successfully” and agreed that the koala habitat present could be “critical to the survival” of the species. 

Lock the Gate Alliance research coordinator Georgina Woods said the advice revealed the perilous position of biodiversity in New South Wales and called on the Government to rule out approving the coal project to save the species present.

“The impacts of Yancoal’s radical mine enlargement in this remote wild valley could directly drive the extinction of endangered birds, bats and reptiles, and destroy habitat that is critical to the survival of endangered koalas,” she said.

“Stopping extinction requires us to stop habitat loss and this project must be ruled out by the NSW and Federal Governments. New South Wales needs unconditional protection for habitat that is critical to the survival of threatened species.  

“The NSW Government has been given clear advice by its own environment agency that the impacts of Yancoal’s Moolarben coal mine expansion are irreversible and unthinkable. 

“Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has promised ‘no new extinctions’ but is yet to act on longstanding calls to toughen Federal Environment laws to actually prevent habitat clearing of this kind. This is where promises must be turned into action.

“This is not a decision that can wait for lengthy law reform processes and prevarication from Penny Sharpe or Tanya Plibesek. This is a decision about extinction or survival and they must both publicly make clear that this environmental desecration will not be allowed to proceed.”

Fast facts:

  • Yancoal’s expansion would extend the duration of its Moolarben coal mine from 2025 to 2034. Yancoal would mine 40 million tonnes of thermal coal from the new area during this period, and would be responsible for a total of 86.6 million tonnes of CO2-e, including when the coal is burnt. 

  • It would clear 625 hectares of native vegetation in an area of “exceptionally high biodiversity value” surrounded on three sides by the Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve.

  • Five new coal mine pits would be dug for the project, the closest located 50 metres or less from the boundary of the nature reserve. The development footprint for the expansion comes within one metre of the reserve boundary.

  • Depending on the timeliness of Yancoal's response to submissions, the Planning Department is expected to recommend for or against the project either late this year or early next year, before referring it to the Independent Planning Commission.

  • Under the state’s current planning laws, the environment agency can provide advice about major mining developments, but has no power to prevent it proceeding. The Henry Review recommended a concurrence power for the Environment Minister for the kinds of impacts that would occur if this project proceeds.


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