Morrison Government must reject Russell Vale expansion due to Wollongong Coal’s chequered history

Published: February 17, 2021

Illawarra Residents for Responsible Mining (IRRM) and Lock the Gate Alliance have written to Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley, urging her to reject Wollongong Coal’s mine expansion under the EPBC’s environmental history test.

Wollongong Coal requires an approval from Minister Ley under the EPBC Act before mining at Russell Vale can proceed. The Independent Planning Commission recently gave the project the go ahead, despite concerns it would threaten the drinking water of the Sydney and Illawarra regions due to its location beneath the catchment.

The Morrison Government is now tasked with making the final decision under the EPBC Act, and submissions are open until 25 February, 2021.

The letter and report to Minister Ley catalogue more than 30 penalties, warnings, orders and investigations related to Wollongong Coal’s failure to comply with mining conditions, standards and requirements.

Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Nic Clyde said the chequered history of Wollongong Coal meant it must not be trusted to mine underneath the fragile water catchment. 

“The NSW planning commission could not take into account Wollongong Coal’s history in its assessment, but the Federal Government can. That’s why it is so important Sussan Ley makes the right decision and rejects this rogue company’s bid to mine coal beneath our water catchment,” he said.

“Wollongong Coal has over thirty past incidents of poor behaviour and legal breaches, which should be more than sufficient for the Federal Minister to refuse the Russell Vale project.

“As well as its long rap sheet, the company has never turned a profit, is too broke to remain listed on the ASX, and pays no company tax. 

“Wollongong Coal is not the kind of company that can be trusted to responsibly mine one of the most sensitive locations in NSW - a Special Area of our water catchment."

Kaye Osborn from Illawarra Residents for Responsible Mining said, “Wollongong Coal’s Russell Vale coal mine has already had a profoundly negative impact on the local community. This company must not be allowed to do more damage to the Illawarra.

“We don’t trust Wollongong Coal to do the right thing. Minister Ley must send this basket case of a company packing.” 

Wollongong Coal’s rap sheet includes:

  • Failure to maintain and operate pollution control equipment leading to pollution of Bellambi Gully

  • Unlawful storage of waste

  • Repeated breaches of mine procedures leading to the shut down of its Wongawilli mine over serious safety issues 

  • Failure to pay rents and levies

  • Failure to undertake works in accordance with the conditions of approval

  • Failure to hold community consultative committee meetings

  • Failure to comply with a Development Control Order (DCO) issued by the NSW Planning Minister at the Russell Vale Coal Mine

  • Failure to pay a single cent of company tax since their parent company took over in 2013

Further background:

  • The proposed extension at Russell Vale would take mining around and up to the shores of the Cataract Reservoir in the Schedule 1 Special Areas of the Sydney Water Catchment, a water supply upon which 5.5 million people of Greater Sydney and the Illawarra rely.

  • Russell Vale is one of the closest collieries to an urban residential area anywhere in Australia.

  • Wollongong City Council formally objected to the Russell Vale Expansion Project due in part to the council’s assessment that the company has a ‘poor track record on workplace safety, debt servicing and operating compliance’. It was the first time  Wollongong City Council had ever objected to a new coal project.

  • Particulate and noise pollution is an ongoing issue as is the mining company’s failure to carry out required flood mitigation works on Bellambi Gully Creek, which puts at risk more than wetlands and wildlife; water-borne coal flooding down from the colliery was a contributing factor in the devastating 1998 floods.  

  • Not only does Wollongong Coal have a record of serial non-compliance, some of the breaches have dragged on for years.  For example, Wollongong Coal was first penalised in October 2016 for failing to carry out the Bellambi Gully Creek flood mitigation works, which were intended to protect businesses, residents and ecosystems downstream of the colliery in the event of excessive rainfall.  They were again penalised in July 2020.  The required works have still  not been completed.

 

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