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NSW approves mining projects that will create nearly 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2

Lock the Gate Alliance is warning that failures in NSW planning law and a lack of legal avenues for the public to challenge mining project approvals are locking in more than a billion tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution.

The Alliance argues this is happening because:

  • The Planning Department refuses to accept responsibility for the greenhouse contribution of mining projects, despite a long-standing law requiring it to do so.

  • The Independent Planning Commission’s objectivity has been compromised by political interference that has weakened its independence.

  • The public lacks legal “merits appeal” rights to challenge the vast majority of mining project approvals.

In total, the NSW Independent Planning Commission has approved mining projects that will create nearly 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions since the Land and Environment Court found contributing to climate change was among the reasons the proposed Rocky Hill coal mine was not in the public interest. 

If it approves three more coal mines now referred to it for decision, the IPC will have rubber stamped an additional 457.9 million tonnes of carbon emissions before the end of summer, taking the total greenhouse pollution endorsed by the NSW planning system since Rocky Hill to 1.6 billion tonnes. 

According advice provided by former Chief Scientist Penny Sackett on the Narrabri gas project, the entire remaining global carbon budget for a likely (66%) chance of keeping warming to below 1.5 degrees is just 35 billion tonnes.

The alarming approval rate shows predictions made by LTGA three years ago are coming true. As well, more mine expansions that are yet to be brought before the IPC remain in the assessment pipeline.

The demonstrable weakening of the IPC position on climate after backlash from the mining lobby and political pressure is self-evident. In 2019, the IPC factored climate change into conditions attached to the United Wambo mine and its decision to refuse the Bylong mine, but since then has approved five coal and gas projects and failed to place any substantive constraints on emissions.

The four most recent approvals - Maxwell Underground, Vickery, Russell Vale, and Santos’ Narrabri gasfield - followed a targeted campaign by the NSW Minerals Council aimed at weakening the IPC and the subsequent kneecapping of the Commission by a review instigated by Planning Minister Rob Stokes.

Lock the Gate Alliance argues the IPC's inconsistent approach to minimising greenhouse pollution from these mining projects and the weakening of its independence by Mr Stokes means the Land and Environment Court must be allowed to consider merits review of such decisions.

Under NSW law, communities lose their right to a merits appeal of decisions if the IPC holds public hearings on a project, a decision that rests with the Minister for Planning, Rob Stokes. Merits appeal rights were retained for the Rocky Hill project because there was no public hearing held by the IPC on that project, enabling the Land and Environment Court to rule on the merits on appeal from the proponent, but have not been available for any other projects. 

LTGA NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said, “Long-standing regulation stipulates that the consent authority, in this case the IPC, must consider whether a project should come with conditions that ensure greenhouse gas emissions - including downstream or scope 3 emissions - are minimised to the greatest extent practicable.

“The IPC has failed to do this with every single mining or gas project that has come before it this year.

“The Commission has done nothing to constrain even the direct emissions from the mining process that add to New South Wales and Australia’s pollution burden, freely allowing companies to vent methane into the atmosphere, burn fuels on site, and generally treating the mining industry as exempt from efforts to tackle climate change. 

“The public has lost faith in the IPC’s ability to make decisions about controversial mining projects with an impartial eye since Minister Stokes kneecapped the authority following the rejection of the Bylong Valley mine.

“This is why we are calling for merits appeal rights to be reinstated - so where there has been a clear failure of bureaucracy, the truly independent judiciary of the NSW Land and Environment Court can decide.

“This at the very least would go some way to restoring the public’s faith in the assessment process.” 

Approved mining projects

Date approved

GHG including downstream emissions (million tonnes over the life of the project)

United Wambo



Rix’s Creek Continuation



Vickery Coal Project



Santos Narrabri gasfield



Russell Vale Expansion



Maxwell Underground



Dendrobium Extension



Tahmoor South



Mangoola Continued Operations 


107.9 (Pg 359)

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