John Barilaro, Deputy Premier of New South Wales (NSW) is exploring ways to overturn the Independent Planning Commission’s (IPC) decision to block a $958 million (US$743 million) coal mine expansion on environmental safety grounds.
The deputy premier met with several key figures in the coal and steel industry at major steelmaker BlueScope Steel’s headquarters in Wollongong to discuss the future of coal mine operations and the potential economic fallout of the IPC’s decision.
The expansion was proposed to the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment last October by West Australian mining company South32. It was initially approved with the department saying it would provide “major economic and social benefits” while protecting around 400 local jobs.
South32 is seeking to expand its Dendrobium mine west of Wollongong, Illawarra, and plans to extend operations until 2048. The expansion was predicted to net an additional 78 million tonnes of coal from the nearby Avon and Cordeaux Dams.
However, Water NSW raised environmental impact concerns, especially to the water catchment area, which supplies drinking water to around 5 million residents.
Following its assessment, on Feb. 5, the IPC shuttered the proposal saying “the risks of adverse impacts on the environment are high, and that those impacts are not appropriately manageable and are likely to be irreversible.”
The IPC also noted that South32 had offered mitigation measures, but some of them were not “considered acceptable by the responsible statutory agencies.”
However, Barilaro is determined to challenge the verdict and is exploring legal advice on overturning the decision. He says if the decision were to go forward, there could be a loss of “750 coal jobs and 3000 steel jobs” resulting in a $2 billion (US$1.6 billion) hit to the local economy.
“The idea we can transition away from the coal industry, mining industry, steel industry, overnight is ridiculous,” Barilaro said.
“At no point does anyone, any of the stakeholders, anybody in government want to see a detrimental outcome either to Sydney’s water catchment or the environment,” he added.
He argues that there must be an environmental and economic compromise saying that “we’ve got to balance the advantages and opportunity for the economy.”
Regarding the concerns raised by WaterNSW, Barilaro says there was a failure in properly working through the issues, but does believe it can be mitigated.
Paul Scully, the state Labor member for Wollongong who joined the discussion, expressed his support for the coal mine expansion.
“It’s important that we’re part of these conversations, because this has a significant impact on our region, on our region today as well as long into the future,” he said.