The NSW Planning Assessment Commission has knocked back the proposed expansion of two open-cut mines in the Hunter Valley and Blue Mountains, inflicting a double blow to the coal industry in the state.
The commission’s rejection refers to the proposed expansions of the Drayton mine south-east of Muswellbrook and the “Coalpac Consolidation Project” near the Gardens of Stone National Park, northwest of Lithgow.
It goes against the Department of Planning and Environment’s recent recommendation to approve the expansion of the Drayton mine, subject to strict conditions.
The Commission found that the Drayton mine project was “not in the public interest” because it was in close proximity to the Coolmore and Darley thoroughbred stud farms, deemed to be “critical” to the nation’s equine industry.
“It is an appalling way for this news to be delivered. Over 500 Drayton mineworkers rely on Drayton coal for their livelihood. The extension would have given them secure employment into the future. This is a blow to them and their families – they deserve better than reading about it in the newspaper,” Mr Jordan said.
Drayton South’s operator, Anglo American Coal, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the verdict was “shattering”, and would cost the state $35 million in royalties a year. He said the company was also considering an appeal.
“The government’s own experts have been overruled by an eight-week exercise,” commented Seamus French, Anglo American’s Coal Chief, referring to the ruling of the NSW Planning and Environment Department, which found the mine to be in “the public interest”.
The rejection of the Coalpac Consolidation Project proposal was met with approval by environmental groups, who urged the Baird Government to declare the Ben Bullen State Forest, site of the Coalpac mine, a conservation area.
“This decision will assist to protect this stunning landscape. This area could become an iconic tourist destination right next door to the Blue Mountains,” said Lithgow Environment Group President Dr Richard Stiles.
However, EnergyAustralia pointed out that the decision jeopardised the future of the Mt Piper power plant.
“In light of this decision, we will look at alternative options for coal supply at the same time as assessing our longer-term commercial position in the current energy market,” Luke Welfare, EnergyAustralia’s General Manager for NSW, said.