Australian Economy

Australia Institute among dozens to oppose 40 million tonne open cut expansion of coal mine in NSW central west

A public policy think tank has slammed the proposed expansion of a New South Wales coal mine, saying the cost of emissions to the climate would exceed any economic benefit.  

South Korean miner Yancoal wants to extract an additional 40 million tonnes of coal through four new open cut pits at the Moolarben Coal Complex near Mudgee, in the state’s central west.

The company’s Environmental Impact Statement reveals the project would mine up to 9 million tonnes of coal a year, with an average of 4 million tonnes extracted until its slated closure in 2038.

Seventy-six submissions have been made to the state planning department about the proposal.

Of those, just two, of one sentence each, support it.

Unequal cost

Among the overwhelming number of objectors is the Australia Institute, which focused on the economic impact of the project.

Research director Rod Campbell said he found the direct cost of the Moolarben Open Cut Extension Project to the climate  measured by the economic damage that would result from its carbon dioxide emissions — would be $156 million, “greater than estimated royalty value  [of] $152 million”.

Mr Campbell believed the public was being “misled” by Yancoal.

His submission to the department said the company’s estimate that the expansion would see it pay $82 million company tax, including $26 million into NSW coffers, was “almost certainly an overestimate”.

“Yancoal has never paid company tax in Australia.”

A close up of a rubble of black coal.
Glencore shareholders have been asking questions about the mining giant’s emissions goals and how they fit with its coal investments.(Pixabay)

A spokesman for the company said it “was looking to recoup all tax losses carried forward from prior years and is now moving into a tax-paying position”.

Mr Campbell said the miner was rushing to expand before coal’s value and price dropped in the face of international climate policy.

“You’re seeing Glencore, and Yancoal in the case of Moolarben, trying to get as much out of the ground as they possibly can, as fast as they can, because the future for coal is pretty grim,” he said.

“And so it should be.”

Environmental opposition 

Meantime, mining giant Glencore has applied to extend the life of its nearby Ulan site for an additional two years to 2035, allowing for an additional 16 million tonnes of coal to be extracted.

It has attracted 53 submissions, of which 36 are opposed.

The company has faced shareholder pressure to clarify how its coal investments align with its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. 

Among the opponents to both mines is the Mudgee District Environment Group.

The chair, Rosemary Hadaway, called the two mines “fairly horrific”.

The larger proposal, at Moolarben, was of greater concern but she does not want either to go ahead.

“The risks and potential impacts are huge and [it’s] very concerning that the department hasn’t just said no outright,” she said.

The group’s submission calls for the project to be rejected due to the potential climate change impact, removal of more than 470 hectares of critically endangered box gum woodland, and impacts on groundwater.

Pub shot
Dozens of submissions opposing both mines have been made to the NSW planning department.(ABC News: John Gunn)

Others to make formal objections include the Nature Conservation Council, the Warrabinga Native Title Claimants Aboriginal Corporation, Lock the Gate Alliance and neighbouring landholders.

Common themes raised among other submissions included fears about the effect on biodiversity including koala habitat, and contamination and use of water. 

In a statement, a Glencore spokesman said, “all of our Australian projects have been factored into Glencore’s plans to achieve net zero by 2050”.

“There would be no change to currently approved extraction limits and mining would largely be serviced by existing surface infrastructure.”

Both proponents are now required to respond to the submissions.

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