The Battle for Bulga
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In 2013, the village of Bulga in the Upper Hunter Valley twice stopped a proposal to extend the massive open-cut Warkworth coal mine to within 2.6 kilometres of the town, first in the Land and Environment Court and then in the NSW Supreme Court.
The courts found that that the economic benefits of the coal mine did not outweigh the significant impacts on Bulga residents and the destruction of the rare Warkworth Sands Woodlands with its endangered plant and animal species. The woodland is unique to the area and only 13 per cent of the original forest remains. Rio Tinto has admitted that 15.5 percent of this remaining forest would be destroyed by the expansion. In 2003 it had promised to permanently protect this area, under an agreement with the NSW government, as part of its original 2003 mine consent.
After the courts’ decision, the then Minister for Resources Chris Hartcher promptly altered the mining State Environment Planning Policy (SEPP) to make economic benefits the most important consideration in planning decisions, outweighing social and environmental impacts.
In fact, the Court had previously found Rio Tinto’s economic modeling deficient in many ways, including its methodology that over-estimated the benefits of the mine.
After the SEPP alteration, the mining company reapplied, and now the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC), a group of 3 people whose decisions cannot be appealed, has recommended that it be given approval, and the town moved.
A recent visit to Bulga by Premier Mike Baird and Planning Minister Rob Stokes has alerted them to the fact that the expansion of coal mining in the Hunter Valley is now one of the most contentious issues in the state, with leaked documents from the Office of Environment and Heritage showing that 16 new or expanded open-cut mines are under consideration for the Hunter Valley in the next 25 years. These would dwarf existing mines, and cover an area of 45,000 hectares, about 18 times the size of Sydney.
Soon after his visit, Stokes indicated that he might put out a draft mining SEPP as soon as possible and he would expect the PAC to take it into account when it came to deciding the fate of Bulga. The new SEPP is expected to return to the pre-2013 position which gives equal weight to economic, environmental and social impacts.
The decision is due in July.
Please write to Rob Stokes and strongly request that he immediately re-instate the pre 2013 mining SEPP, which gives equal weight to economic, environmental and social impacts, and that he demand that the PAC abide by it when deciding the fate of Bulga.