The Independent Planning Commission (IPC) last week approved a significant expansion of the United and Wambo collieries near Singleton. In granting the approval, the IPC imposed a condition which requires the mine owners to prepare an export management plan to ensure that coal is only exported to countries that are signatories to the Paris agreement, or to countries that have similar policies in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

EDO NSW acted for the Hunter Environment Lobby in opposing the mine extension. On behalf of our client we engaged expert evidence on a range of the mine’s predicted impacts, including on air quality, biodiversity, noise, groundwater and economics. Our client also put forward the same best-practice climate change science relied on by the Land and Environment Court in its February 2019 decision to refuse the Rocky Hill coal mine at Gloucester.

The Hunter Environment Lobby also specifically opposed the export management plan condition when it was first proposed in August 2019. The IPC stated that the condition was imposed to ensure that all reasonable and feasible measures are adopted to minimise greenhouse gas emissions to the greatest extent practicable. However, in our client’s view, there are fundamental flaws in assuming that this goal can be met simply by requiring coal to be exported to Paris Agreement signatories. First, many countries that have signed the Paris Agreement, on current trajectories, will fail to achieve their existing commitments. Second, even if all signatories did meet their existing commitments, the Paris temperature goals will still be significantly exceeded.

Bev Smiles of the Hunter Environment Lobby confirmed that, “We are disappointed in the IPC’s decision to approve this mine expansion.

“I am particularly disappointed in the IPC decision makers not dealing with the cumulative impacts of expanding the mine. The local impacts, especially noise and air pollution, from this even bigger mine will be horrendous for the community.”

David Morris, EDO CEO, said, “We share our client’s disappointment that the United Wambo expansion has been given the go-ahead by the Independent Planning Commission.

“We are particularly disappointed that this decision appears to revert to the old ‘leave it to another time’ – or another place – thinking about climate impacts from fossil fuel extraction. The Rocky Hill judgment established a best-practice approach to the consideration of new major fossil fuels developments, using state-of-the-art science, and the Wambo export condition fails to address this in any meaningful way, given that nearly every country, including Australia, is a signatory to the Paris Agreement and yet emissions continue to rise.”

The United Wambo Open Cut Coal Mine Project has been approved to expand open cut mining operations at the existing Wambo Coal Mine and United Colliery to allow for the extraction of an additional 150 million tonnes of run-of-mine coal over a period of 23 years.