The Independent Planning Commission’s decision to approve Wollongong Coal’s Russell Vale expansion beneath the Sydney-Illawarra water catchment will further damage the authority’s credibility in the eyes of the public, according to Lock the Gate Alliance.
This is now the fourth approval for a major coal or gas project the IPC has waved through since its decision to reject the Bylong Valley coal mine triggered a propaganda campaign from the NSW Minerals Council, leading the NSW Berejiklian Government to subsequently weaken the IPC.
The approval was awarded to the financially-stricken Wollongong Coal despite a litany of serious concerns, including:
Risk of subsidence due to instability of the Bulli seam pillars, raised by both WaterNSW and a senior NSW Resources Regulator engineer. The company only needs to address this risk via management plans post-approval.
The Russell Vale expansion will require 50 million litres of water over its five year lifespan. However, predicted long-term water discharge from the mine workings will occur and continue long after mining has ended, likely in perpetuity.
The mine will release 11.1Mt CO2-e putting it amongst the top 100 emitters of Scope 1 emissions in Australia.
There are also major issues with the company itself and its previous behaviour, which the IPC was not able to take into consideration when making its decision, including:
Wollongong Coal is likely trading while insolvent, has a multibillion dollar debt problem, recently delisted itself from the ASX due to the costs of remaining listed, and questions remain about the true cost of rehabilitation at its existing mine site.
The company still hasn’t met its obligations for its previous approvals at Russell Vale, and the managing director and several officials of its parent company, Jindal Steel and Power, are facing criminal charges in India.
The Department of Planning has already conceded that Wollongong Coal will pay no corporate tax.
“Lock the Gate Alliance believes the inability of the IPC to consider a company’s history and whether it is ‘fit and proper’ to gain a development approval is contrary to the public’s interest,” said Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Nic Clyde.
“The IPC has not been able to consider Wollongong Coal’s checkered history in the Illawarra, nor the financially woeful status of the company.
“This is just one of the reasons the public is quickly losing faith with the IPC, the other being the fact the authority was effectively kneecapped by the government after it dared to reject a coal mine in the Bylong Valley.
“We saw this at Narrabri with the Santos gasfield decision, we saw it at Boggabri with the Vickery Coal Mine approval, and we have once again seen it in the Illawarra with this shoddy decision to approve Russel Vale.
“If the NSW Berejiklian Government wants the public to maintain faith in the assessment process, it must either restore the IPC’s credibility, or restore Land and Environment Court merits appeal rights to the community.”
However, Mr Clyde said the IPC’s Russell Vale approval had significant implications for another project in the Illawarra.
“About the only positive from this approval, is that the IPC has said Wollongong Coal’s ‘bord and pillar’ style of mining is acceptable, and the company obviously believes it is economically viable. However further south at Dendrobium, proponent South32 is not even willing to consider this approach, preferring to push ahead with the much more destructive ‘longwall’ mining method.
“If the IPC has a shred of integrity left, it must at the very least refuse longwall mining at Dendrobium and send South32 back to the drawing board.”