The Tahmoor South Coal Project has been approved by the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC). 

Mine owners SIMEC Mining, whose parent company GFG Alliance owns the Whyalla steel works in South Australia, applied to extend the life of the Tahmoor Colliery until 2032. 

The proposal would see 4 million tonnes of metallurgical coal extracted per year at the mine, which is around 80km south-west of Sydney. 

Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) presented evidence to the IPC on behalf of our clients Undermined, calling for the project to be refused on two main grounds – climate change and further damage to the nearby Thirlmere Lakes.  

Today, the IPC determined the project could go ahead concluding that the greenhouse gas impacts from the project are “outweighed by the project’s benefits”.   

It said conditions of consent would require, “ongoing investigation and implementation of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.  

EDO Safe Climate Team Managing Lawyer Sean Ryan said: 

“We are deeply disappointed in today’s decision, which saw a major new source of carbon emissions given the green light without any attempt to offset the majority of its emissions. 

“The Tahmoor South Project is a classic example of the wrong project, at the wrong place and time. 

“Our clients submitted that the risks of this project, both to the climate and to local waterways, was too great.    

“We will be speaking with our client in the coming weeks to discuss next steps.” 

Climate Impacts 

In February 2019, the New South Wales Land and Environment Court refused permission for the Rocky Hill coal mine in the NSW Upper Hunter Valley, in part because of the projected climate emissions from the mine. 

EDO’s clients in the Rocky Hill case presented detailed evidence about the global carbon budget and how the mine was against the principles of ecologically sustainable development. 

Tahmoor Colliery is a ‘gassy’ mine, which means it emits a lot of greenhouse gases simply during the mining of the coal. 

The direct (scope 1) emissions from the Tahmoor South Project are much higher than Rocky Hill mine would have been, with Tahmoor South projected to release more than double the volume of total emissions than Rocky Hill when both the mining and use of the coal are taken into account.  

Overall, this amounts to approximately 94 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent over the life of the project. 

EDO submitted that the IPC should give considerable weight to the Rocky Hill decision when determining this project. 

On behalf of our clients, EDO argued that the mine be refused on climate grounds, or if the IPC were to approve the mine, that the mine be compelled to offset its carbon emissions. 

Thirlmere Lakes 

The Tahmoor Colliery site is next to the Thirlmere lakes, which lie within the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. 

Thirlmere Lakes are a horseshoe-shaped system of five freshwater lakes, thought to be around 15 million years old.1  They are a renowned beauty spot and leisure area for local families. 

The lakes are also a biodiversity hotspot listed on the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia, with the vulnerable Australasian bittern and a rare type of freshwater sponge found in the area. 

However, in recent decades water levels at the lakes have fallen, with some becoming substantially dry.  

EDO’s evidence before the IPC is that there is a risk the Tahmoor South Project will cause further serious or irreversible harm to Thirlmere Lakes through changes to groundwater flows.