In 2017, EDO took landmark legal action on behalf of 4nature to protect Sydney’s drinking water from pollution, by challenging the approval of the Springvale Coal Mine extension. This was the first case to test the 2009 laws that were introduced to protect Sydney’s drinking water catchment.
The Springvale mine lies beneath the Newnes Forest in the Blue Mountains. The mine has many issues, including the undermining of significant swamp areas.
In 2015, the NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) approved a development application to extend the mine, allowing it to discharge large amounts of mine water into the Coxs River. That river flows into Lake Burragorang created by Warragamba Dam — Sydney’s main drinking water reservoir. The discharge water is highly saline and contains nitrates, phosphates, zinc, nickel and other contaminants.
Acting on behalf of 4nature, EDO lawyers argued that the approval was unlawful because the PAC could not be satisfied the development would have a ‘neutral or beneficial’ effect on water quality in the catchment — a standard introduced by the NSW Government in 2009 specifically to protect Sydney’s drinking water.
The case went to the Land and Environment Court, which found that the extension could go ahead. We then took the case to the Court of Appeal and secured a win. The Court of Appeal found that the approval was unlawful, overturning the Land and Environment Court’s decision.
However, shortly before a hearing on what final orders should be made, the NSW Parliament passed a bill which retrospectively validated the PAC’s approval of the mine. The new bill changed the law to allow projects like the Springvale mine extension to be assessed against current pollution levels rather than what the water quality would be if the project did not go ahead.
Despite this, the law for completely new projects has not changed, and the test for water quality set out by the Court of Appeal, as a result of our case, will continue to apply to new development applications.
EDO New South Wales is the legal entity acting in this case. EDO NSW began trading as EDO Ltd in September 2019.