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Freeloaders: air and water pollution from NSW coal mines

Lock the Gate Alliance has released a report which calculates that NSW taxpayers are losing out on $14M each year because the coal mining industry is allowed to pollute for free.

The report – titled ‘Freeloaders: Air and Water Pollution from Coal Mines in NSW’ - is the first ever to compare the total pollution discharged by coal miners for free with the costs borne by other industries who are forced to pay under the NSW load-based licensing scheme.


In brief

  • The EPA’s load-based licensing scheme imposes dollar values on the volume of pollution emitted by an industry, to create an inducement to the company to reduce their pollution levels[1].
  • The load-based licencing scheme is currently being reviewed by the EPA, with a discussion paper now overdue for release to the public.
  • Coal mining in NSW is not subject to the load-based licensing scheme, whilst other industries such as power generation and coal seam gas mining are subject to it, despite coal mining being the biggest single source of several damaging pollutants and toxics.
  • The report ‘Freeloaders: Air and Water Pollution from Coal Mines in NSW’ is based on an analysis of all reported pollution under the National Pollutant Inventory in NSW for 2013/2014. 
  • The report analyses the volumes of pollutants reported by the coal mining industry with the total reported by all industries.

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  • In 2013/2014, the coal mining industry in NSW dumped 26,894 kg of heavy metals and other pollutants into our streams and rivers, including dangerous substances like arsenic, lead, and mercury.
  • Coal mines were responsible for 60% of the arsenic pollution into water in NSW that year and 23% of all lead discharges.
  • Coal mines also emitted 122,819 tonnes of coarse and fine particle pollution and 77,570 tonnes of other airborne pollutants, including volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and dangerous toxins like formaldehyde, cobalt and arsenic.
  • Coal mining is the lead source of air pollution of coarse and fine particulates in NSW.

Revenue lost 

  • The report calculates that the amount of money NSW ought to be charging the coal industry for all of this free pollution is at least $14 million per annum.
  • The report identifies the most polluting mines as Wilpinjong, Ravensworth, Mt Arthur and Hunter Valley Operations and estimates that it each of them should be paying at least $1 million each year.

Worst Offenders

  • The underground mines of southern Sydney and the Blue Mountains are particularly notable for the quantity of heavy metal pollution they release into surface water, some of it into tributaries that feed Sydney’s drinking water catchment.
  • The report profiles Springvale, Clarence and Dendrobium mines, as well as Mandalong in Lake Macquarie, highlighting failures in licencing and non-compliance problems for each.
  • For air pollution, it is the large open cut coal mines of the Hunter Valley that are the worst offenders.
  • Many Hunter residents are familiar with the visible PM10 pollution that cloaks the valley on hot days, but many other potentially harmful air pollutants, such as arsenic and cobalt, are released by several large mines in close proximity to each other, raising the possibility that cumulative impacts are being experienced by nearby populations.
  • The report profiles Mount Arthur, Hunter Valley Operations and Wilpinjong mines, which were all identified to be among the worst offenders for air pollution.
To download the full report in PDF, click here

[1] The load-based licencing scheme is separate from, and in addition to, mandatory pollution licences which are also managed by the NSW EPA.

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