18 december 2020

Activists hail ‘historic win’ as NSW environment court rejects Bylong Valley coalmine

*Kepco had appealed against decision to refuse development proposal to extract 120m tonnes of coal over 25 years

*Kepco’s coalmine proposal was refused last year by NSW’s planning commission, citing an unacceptable impact on the environment and costs to future generations.

Lisa Cox, The Guardian, Fri 18 Dec 2020

The development of an underground and open-cut coalmine in the Bylong Valley will not be allowed to proceed after a ruling in the NSW land and environment court.

In what environmental campaigners described as a historic win, the court on Friday upheld a decision by the state’s Independent Planning Commission (IPC) to reject Kepco’s proposal for a mine that would extract up to 120m tonnes of coal over 25 years for export.

The IPC refused development approval for the project last year citing the unacceptable impact the mine would have on the environment – including through greenhouse gas emissions – and the costs to future generations.

Kepco appealed against the decision and a community group, the Bylong Valley Protection Alliance, successfully argued to join the case and defend the IPC’s ruling after the commission itself declined to take an active role in proceedings.

Justice Nicola Pain dismissed the company’s appeal on Friday finding the IPC’s refusal of the mine was lawful.

Rana Koroglu, a managing lawyer at the Environmental Defenders Office, which represented the alliance, said it was “a historic win not just for Bylong but for everyone working to limit global carbon emissions and avoid the worst impacts of climate change”.

“We could not be more pleased for the Bylong Valley Protection Alliance, who have fought courageously for five years to protect their beautiful valley from this mine,” she said.

“The community provided robust scientific evidence to the IPC on the detrimental environmental, social and economic impacts of the proposal to build a new coalmine in a highly productive agricultural area.

“The IPC found the mine was contrary to the principles of ecologically sustainable development and would have unacceptable impacts on the Bylong Valley. Today, the court has confirmed the IPC’s refusal was lawful.”

Phillip Kennedy, the president of the Bylong Valley Protection Alliance, welcomed the court’s decision.

“This court decision reaffirms what we locals always knew – that the IPC was right when it ruled the agricultural values of this valley are too precious to sacrifice for the sake of a temporary, destructive coalmine,” he said.

“What we’d like to now see is the NSW Berejiklian and Barilaro government permanently rule out mining in the Bylong Valley and protect it for farming in perpetuity through legislation.”

Kennedy said he also wanted the state government to rule out accepting any revised proposal from Kepco for mining in the valley.

Bill Vatovec, Kepco Australia’s chief operating officer, said the company was disappointed by Friday’s judgment.

“Kepco is very disappointed that the court did not find in favour of the project and the strong case it made for overturning the refusal by the Independent Planning Commission,” he said. “Kepco will now take some time to review the decision of the court and decide the future direction of the project.”

Kepco’s options include appealing the judgment in the court of appeal, revising the project and filing a new development application, or walking away.

In its statement of reasons last year, the IPC said the impacts the mine would have on agricultural land, groundwater and heritage were unacceptable.

The statement made reference to last year’s historic ruling on the Rocky Hill coalmine, with the commission finding Kepco had not done enough to minimise greenhouse gas emissions associated with the project.

The commission said the distribution of costs and benefits of the mine was “temporally inequitable” because younger generations would carry the environmental, agricultural and heritage costs while the economic benefits would flow to current generations.

>>> Back to list