The Environmental Defenders Office, acting on behalf of the Bylong Valley Protection Alliance (BVPA), is seeking to join a Judicial Review into a decision to refuse permission for a coal mine in the New South Wales Bylong Valley.
In September 2019, the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC) rejected the proposed 6.5 million tonnes-per-year open cut and underground mine in the valley – an area known for its scenic beauty and agricultural productivity.
In December, Korean mining company KEPCO Ltd applied for a Judicial Review of the IPC’s decision. However, the IPC has declined to take an active role in the review, and will not defend its own decision-making.
Today members of the Bylong Community applied to join the case in order to defend the IPC’s decision and protect their community from the mine.
Community Standing Strong
EDO Principal Lawyer Sydney, Elaine Johnson says, “In our experience, in these types of cases, it is unusual for a decision-maker not to participate in proceedings or make submissions to the Court on matters of law. It’s now up to the community to defend the Bylong refusal.
“The New South Wales Independent Planning Commission was set up to make important decisions about the use of our land and resources. It’s designed to give people confidence that major planning decisions have been made at arm’s length from politics and with due consideration to all the available evidence.
“In this case, the commission ruled that opening up the scenic and fertile lands of the Bylong Valley to a coal mine was not in the public interest. The IPC was clear that this mine would have unacceptable impacts on groundwater and described projected carbon emissions from its coal as ‘problematical’.
“Unable to challenge the merits of the decision, Kepco has launched a Judicial Review of the process itself, while the coal industry has mounted a full-scale public campaign against the IPC.
“The commission has decided not to participate in this process. Fortunately, EDO and our clients are there to fill the gap.
“The people of Bylong are standing strong. In the NSW Government’s absence, our clients are seeking to participate in this Judicial Review to defend their community and preserve this land and its water for future generations.”
Ecologically Sustainable Development
In its September decision, the IPC found that Kepco’s Bylong Valley mine was contrary to the principles of ecologically sustainable development and cited impacts on groundwater, agricultural land and aesthetic, scenic, heritage and natural values in its Statement of Reasons for the refusal.
Acting for the BVPA, Environmental Defenders Office lawyers presented the commission with expert evidence, equivalent to that relied on by the Land and Environment Court when it refused the Rocky Hill coal mine at Gloucester in February 2019. In its Statement of Reasons, the commission said that the greenhouse gas aspects of the project were ‘problematical’.
The IPC’s decision was met with swift outcry from the NSW Minerals Council and was a catalyst for a NSW Government review of the commission as well as proposed changes to the law and policy on regulation of greenhouse gas emissions currently being considered by Parliament and Government.
Earlier this month, it was revealed that KEPCO’s board has marked down the value of its Bylong mining rights to zero from nearly $700 million, in a report to the South Korean stock exchange.