NSW Government has altered the strict requirements for a detailed investigation of Shenhua’s Watermark coal mine’s impacts to groundwater and vegetation.
Days before Christmas last year the Planning Department announced it had agreed to Shenhua’s request to modify development consent for the Watermark project.
NSW’s changes allow Shenhua to commence pre-construction works before it has submitted studies on the mine’s impacts to vegetation and groundwater – which fall under the “water trigger” laws.
These management plans were imposed in 2015 by former federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, when he issued a general approval.
Shenhua is yet to submit either plan to the Commonwealth.
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The Chinese miner wrote to NSW Planning last year seeking permission to conduct pre-construction works before it submitted its plans.
It is permitted to conduct surveys, dig test pits, undertake investigative or geotechnical drilling, minor clearing, and build minor access roads.
Prior to any of these works, NSW Planning must approve Shenhua’s plan for pre-construction works.
This plan must detail what work will be undertaken, and describe measures to minimise impacts to biodiversity.
This includes in particular koala habitat, Aboriginal heritage, and erosion and sedimentation.
Liverpool Plains farmer, John Hamparsum, was outraged that Shenhua’s development consent had been altered.
“We’re disgusted that the NSW Government has capitulated to Shenhua yet again,” Mr Hamparsum said.
“They have repeatedly stated that the best science would apply to this mine before any work was done, and now they’ve thrown that out the window.”
Lock the Gate spokesperson Georgina Woods said the new development consent conditions weakened the previous requirements.
“Instead of upholding the conditions of Shenhua’s approval, the NSW Government has watered them down so that Shenhua can start work without these crucial plans in place,” she said.
NSW Government paid Shenhua $262 million in June 2017 to buy 51 per cent of Shenhua’s exploration tenement - an area it did not intend to mine.
At the time, government was considering Shenhua’s application to renew its exploration licence, which was eventually approved on July 21 this year.
The exploration licence is separate to Shehua’s approval to construct the mine, which expires on January 28 next year.
However, the miner must have its management plans approved by the federal Environment Department before then.