1133 GMT October 17, 2019
Kepco, the South Korean company that plans to develop an open-cut mine in the valley, has written to the state’s independent planning commission in light of the NSW land and environment court’s ruling in February that the Rocky Hill mine in Gloucester should not go ahead, in part because it was not compatible with efforts to combat climate change, theguardian.com reported.
Activists and the legal firm that fought the case said the submission was an acknowledgement of how influential the decision could be on how fossil fuel projects are assessed in NSW.
As part of his judgment on Rocky Hill, the chief judge Brian Preston ruled that emissions from the burning of coal in other countries should be considered when determining a project’s environmental impact.
In its 18-page submission, Kepco defended its Bylong Valley proposal by arguing that emissions from burning the coal overseas remained an accounting matter for South Korea under its Paris agreement targets, not for Australia.
It acknowledged that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cause climate change but said “the direct emissions attributable to the project are small compared to GHG emissions on a national scale”.
“The environmental impacts of GHG emissions on a global scale should not be attributed to the project,” the submission said.
As part of environmental assessments it had already conducted, Kepco assessed that the emissions from burning coal from the project would be 197.4 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent over 23 years.
In its new submission, Kepco said if the Bylong project did not go ahead, the company would have to use lower quality coal that would lead to ‘a poorer environmental outcome’ — a familiar argument made to defend new coal projects in Australia.
A spokesman for Kepco said the company had made the new submission voluntarily “to provide further contextual information” to the planning commission.
Brendan Dobbie, the acting principal solicitor at the Environmental Defenders Office NSW, said it was clear Kepco’s submission was a response to the court ruling.
“In our view, they haven’t really provided a lot of new information that wasn’t already in their various environmental assessments,” he said.
“They’re attempting to respond, but in many ways they’ve missed the point as to what Justice Preston has found.”
“They haven’t raised any new arguments and ignored what Preston found in Rocky Hill, in particular the need to respect the carbon budget and that any significant new coal mining and emissions from that mining can’t assist in allowing us to avoid dangerous climate change.”
But Dobbie said it showed industry was alert to the case and “it shows that the Rocky Hill decision will be quite influential in the way that future fossil fuel projects will be assessed by the independent planning commission and other decision-making bodies”.
George Woods, the NSW coordinator of the anti-mining action group Lock the Gate Alliance, said it was a recognition that the Rocky Hill judgment had changed the way the commission should consider new mines.
“This coal mine is the next new coal project to be considered by the Independent Planning Commission in the wake of the Rocky Hill judgment,” Woods said.
“Given the downstream emissions from Bylong coal mine would be five times that of the Rocky Hill mine, refusal of this project will make a meaningful contribution to remaining within the carbon budget for achieving the long term temperature goals of the Paris climate agreement.”
A spokesman for the commission confirmed Kepco’s submission was voluntary and said it had been provided to the three-member commission panel for consideration.