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NSW Planning Department recommends approval of climate wrecking Whitehaven coal mine, admits policy incoherence

Lock the Gate Alliance has slammed the NSW Planning Department for recommending approval for a Whitehaven owned coal mine expansion that would be responsible for nearly half a billion tonnes of carbon emissions, and likely cause a 10m drop in groundwater levels.

The company’s 11 million tonne per annum Narrabri Underground expansion would create more than 30 million tonnes of direct greenhouse pollution, and 456 million tonnes of downstream emissions. It would also cause major subsidence in the Pilliga Forest and reduce water flowing into the Namoi River.

The Independent Planning Commission uploaded the assessment referral for the project today (January 19). Unusually, the report includes a candid admission from the department that NSW has no coherent policy to consider and determine the acceptable impact of new coal mining projects on climate change (see page 73). It also queried whether the project’s purported economic benefits were accurate, given the extent of the greenhouse emissions (see page 87).

Whitehaven admits that at least nine farmer-owned water bores would be impacted if its expansion is built, however Lock the Gate Alliance believes the company has underestimated the number of bores that will be drained.

The decision by the department to list the project as “approvable” comes despite media reports last year revealing department officials criticised Whitehaven’s application, and described the company’s predicted water impacts as “counterintuitive” and “inconsistent.”

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said, “Whitehaven’s Narrabri Underground expansion would mean this coal mine is responsible for the highest volume of direct and indirect carbon emissions of any coal project determined by the Independent Planning Commission to date. This is clearly unacceptable at a time when the world desperately needs to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and avoid worsening the climate crisis.

“The department’s decision to recommend approval to this huge new source of greenhouse pollution is particularly infuriating because, for the first time, the department actually sought advice about the project’s carbon emissions. The department’s admission that New South Wales has no coherent policy about how to prevent and manage the greenhouse emissions of the state’s coal mines is damning, but that policy failure should not mean this damaging project gets waved through. 

“The department has admitted that accurate economic costing of this climate change impact would reduce its purported benefits. By our calculation, if Whitehaven Coal had honestly assessed this issue, this coal mine would have a net negative impact on the economy of New South Wales.

“The expansion would drain groundwater from a region that has only recently emerged from  a devastating drought. It’s going to fuel climate change and contribute to droughts likely becoming more frequent and more intense in the North West.

“Namoi Valley farmers have long suffered due to Whitehaven’s cavalier attitude to the law. The company has been warned, fined, or prosecuted for serious misconduct at its NSW coal mines more than 40 times in recent years.

“This is a company with no coherent climate change policy, an environmental crime wrap sheet as long as your arm, and a serious trust deficit with the local community. It’s up to the Independent Planning Commission now to stop this reckless expansion from proceeding.”

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