EDO clients Protect Our Water Catchment Inc apply to fight South32’s appeal in the Land and Environment Court

Originally posted on the EDO website, 02/07/2021

Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) clients Protect Our Water Catchment (POWC) have applied to join legal proceedings so they can defend the refusal of a coal mine extension south of Sydney. 

In February 2021, the New South Wales Independent Planning Commission (IPC) rejected the expansion application by South 32, to extend the life of its Dendrobium mine, near Wollongong. 

It found the controversial proposal, that was opposed by Water NSW due to its potential impacts on Sydney’s drinking water catchment, was against the interests of intergenerational equity. 

South 32’s subsidiary, Illawarra Coal Holdings Pty Ltd, lodged a NSW Land and Environment Court judicial review against the refusal decision in May.  POWC, represented by EDO, have applied to join the case and defend the IPC’s decision. 

EDO Managing Lawyer Sean Ryan said “Our clients POWC, join Water NSW and the wider community in holding serious concerns about the impact of this mine on Sydney’s drinking water catchment. 

“The people of Sydney and the Illawarra have already faced water restrictions twice in two decades due to drought. Climate change will mean more frequent and severe droughts for eastern Australia. 

“On top of that, the IPC found that the greenhouse gas emissions from this mine would be significant at over 250 million tonnes over the life of the project.  In POWC’s view, this is inconsistent with Paris Climate Agreement goals of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. 

“We are representing POWC in their efforts to join this appeal to defend the IPC’s decision, which correctly led to the refusal of this project.” 

Background 

The Dendrobium mine, near Wollongong, was approved in 2002 and can produce up to 5.2 million tonnes of ROM coal per year. 

South32 had sought planning approval to extend the life and footprint of its Dendrobium mine until the end of 2048 and extract an additional 78 million tonnes of coal. This would have resulted in over 250 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the project.  

Based on expert advice presented to the IPC, the IPC rejected the expansion plans for the coal mine finding that the proposed mine risked long-term and irreversible damage to the Greater Sydney and the Illawarra’s drinking water catchment. 

The IPC also found that the project’s subsidence effects were likely to be significant, resulting in the degradation of 25 watercourses and swamps in Sydney’s drinking water catchment, detrimental impacts to biodiversity and threatened ecological communities such as upland swamps, and negative impacts on Aboriginal cultural artefacts and values.   

The IPC decided that “the loss of good quality water for future generations of Greater Sydney and the Illawarra Regions, the loss of biodiversity and Aboriginal cultural heritage all combine to a significant loss that one generation would be passing on to future generations” was inconsistent with the principle of intergenerational equity. 

The IPC found that the greenhouse gas emissions from the project would be significant, although it refused the project on other grounds. 

Media release: Residents celebrate rejection of Dendrobium Mine Extension

Wollongong, New South Wales — Residents are this morning celebrating the Independent Planning Commission’s rejection of the controversial Dendrobium Mine Extension, holding a party outside of State Labor MP Paul Scully’s office. On Friday, the IPC rejected the proposed expansion within the special areas of the Greater Sydney Water Catchment, citing that “the risk of adverse events to the environment are high and likely to be irreversible”.

Protect Our Water Alliance (POWA) spokesperson Rada Germanos said “it is only through the hard work and commitment of our communities that this enormously destructive project has been stopped – if it weren’t for the hundreds of locals who wrote opposing submissions to the original EIS, this approval would have been rushed through. 

The IPC has made the sensible decision, the decision that protects priceless Aboriginal heritage, endangered ecosystems, as well as the water security of five million people. But this decision would not have been made if the community didn’t stand up and take action.”

Several state politicians, including Opposition Natural Resources Minister and Wollongong MP Paul Scully, expressed surprise and concern about the IPC decision, citing concerns for the job impacts in the Illawarra region. Deputy Premier John Barilaro has even vowed to attempt to overturn the IPC’s decision. This comes as the Peabody Metropolitan Mine in Helensburgh has halted production and locked its workers out for a further two months, citing a downturn in the global demand for coking coal. 

“It is clear as day that the Illawarra needs a transition plan – a plan to move us away from dirty destructive industries, and towards cleaner manufacturing technology such as Green Steel. If our politicians are genuinely concerned about jobs, then they should be focusing their energies on a just transition plan for mine workers, rather than just backing their mates in the coal lobby time and time again. The original Green Jobs Illawarra Plan was written in 2009 — and has sat on the shelf for the last decade.”

“The IPC has made a decision in the interests of the community, and the community will continue to fight to make sure this decision is upheld. POWA will continue to fight for a total ban on mining in the water catchment, a ban that will protect ecosystems, protect culture, and protect the water that we all depend upon.”

NSW Independent Planning Commission REJECTS Dendrobium Mine expansion

Independant Planning Commission’s (IPC) public engagement in late 2020 recieved 1550 unique written submissions, with 60% of those opposing the Dendrobium Mine Extension.

Ultimately, the IPC sided with the concerns of the community, and rejected the proposed expansion.

As an excerpt from the Executive Summary (p 4) explains:

“Significant concerns were raised during consultations undertaken by the Department [of Planning, Industry and the Environment] and Commission in relation to several key issues: mine design, subsidence, ground and surface water impacts, biodiversity and upland swamps, Aboriginal cultural heritage, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the ‘NorBE test’ and bushfire risk…

However, after careful examination of all the evidence and weighing all relevant considerations, the Commission has found that the longwall mine design out forward by South32 does not achieve a balance between maximising the recovery of a coal resourse of State significance and managing, minimising or mitigating the impacts on the water resources and biodiversity and the other environmental values of the Metropolitan Special Area,

For the reasons outlines in this Statement of Reasons, the Commission is of the view that the impacts of the Project outweigh the benefits from an approval, such that the Project should be refused. The Commission concluded that the level of risk posed by the Project has not been properly quantified and based on the potential for long-term and irreversible impacts — particularly on the integrity of a vital drinking water source for the Macarthur and Illawarra regions, the Wollondilly Shire and Metropolitan Sydney — it is not in the public interest.”

Read the IPC’s Statement of Reasons for Decision