Upper Hunter coal facing further green blocks

THE New South Wales and federal governments are revamping guidelines for protecting biodiversity in the Hunter Valley after green groups have challenged Coal & Allied’s proposed Warkworth mine extension and farmers become more vocal in opposition to coal mine development.
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The NSW Hunter Valley, near Mudgee.

Lou Caruana

The terms of reference for the Upper Hunter strategic assessment – which were recommended in the Upper Hunter strategic regional land use plan – have been placed on public exhibition.

Coal mining companies are currently required to protect biodiversity areas over the long term to compensate for vegetation clearing on their minesite in a process known as offsetting.

Decisions are being made on a case-by-case basis when individual development applications are lodged.

The Upper Hunter strategic assessment will create a region-wide plan, identifying which areas should be protected, to better guide decisions before the applications are lodged.

The plan will be formulated with scientific facts and extensive community input, according to the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure.

The DPI, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and federal Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities are working together to prepare the biodiversity plan.

The NSW and federal governments agreed to work together to provide a region-wide response to the biodiversity impacts of coal mining proposals, the DPI said.

The study area for the strategic assessment is some 260,000 hectares in the Upper Hunter, Muswellbrook, Singleton and Cessnock council areas.

Ten mining companies with exploration leases in the region have agreed to participate in the study: Rio Tinto, Xstrata, BHP Billiton, Anglo American, Coal and Allied, Idemitsu, NuCoal, Wambo Coal, Vale Integra Coal and Rix’s Creek.

“Some of the benefits of this new approach include delivering upfront certainty for the community and miners, streamlining decisions by removing the need for a separate Commonwealth approval where the biodiversity plan is being implemented, improving environmental outcomes through finding and securing offsets in a more coordinated way and better addressing the cumulative impacts of future mining on biodiversity over a 25-year horizon,” according to the DPI.

The department stated it would also improve the practice of ecological restoration of all land.

But hurdles for coal mine development projects in the Hunter Valley are becoming increasingly tougher.

Coal mining development in NSW is going through upheaval with the announcement that Planning Minister Brad Hazzard is calling for another look at the impact of nearby horse studs of Anglo American’s proposed Drayton South open cut mine in the Hunter Valley.

The announcement comes after the Land and Environment Court ruled that Rio Tinto subsidiary Coal & Allied’s proposed expansion of its Warkworth mine should not proceed despite gaining approval by the Planning Assessment Commission.

The latest move by Hazzard is seen as trying to avoid future legal challenges to the Drayton South development if it is approved.

Hazzard wrote to the independent PAC requesting that it defer its review of the proposed open cut mine to allow the DPI to undertake further work on concerns raised in public submissions.

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