New federal scrutiny for coal, gas projects

Beef Central, 20/06/2013

The Federal Environment minister will now have the power to to block approvals for proposed coal or gas mining projects if likely impacts to water resources are deemed unacceptable, under amendments passed in the Senate yesterday. 

Until now Federal environmental legislation has prevented the federal minister for the environment from taking into account possible water impacts when granting Commonwealth approvals to coal or gas mining projects, except for instances where a threatened species or wetland was involved.

However, under the “Water Trigger” amendment to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act passed by the Senate yesterday, any new coal or gas project that could potentially impact water resources will now have to pass greater scrutiny at Commonwealth level.

Projects will need to pass an assessment by an independent expert scientific committee, and the Federal environment minister will have the power to block projects earlier approved at state level if they are deemed to pose an unacceptable risk to water. 

The bill was initiated by independent member for New England Tony Windsor and passed through the Senate yesterday, after the Opposition and Greens unsuccessfully attempted to introduce further amendments to the legislaiton.

Mr Windsor said the new law would prevent states from "waving through" projects which risked damage to water resources.

“CSG and coal mining projects can no longer be given the green light unless independent scientific advice concludes they won’t damage our precious water resources,” Mr Windsor said.

“Federal oversight based on independent science will help protect Australia’s most productive farmland from potential damage and encourage mining companies to pursue projects with lower risk profiles.”

The gas industry’s peak representative body, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA), says the legislation is anti-development and reflects poorly on Australia as a place to do business.

APPEA chief executive David Byers said the bill had more to do with politics than science, and would add huge costs to business and government, yet deliver no environmental gain.

“The fact that a Bill so widely acknowledged as anti-business – and so widely derided as being politically motivated – can be waived through the Senate sends a terrible message,” Mr Byers said.

“Burying the gas industry in selective, unnecessary, and duplicative regulation has real consequences and will inhibit the industry’s ability to do what is so important to so many: produce the natural gas needed by thousands of Australian households and businesses.”

Survey underlines public concerns about CSG and water

Meanwhile, research undertaken for NSW landholder groups found that 85 percent of people surveyed agree that the coal and coal seam gas industries are threatening our water supplies including groundwater.

The poll of 1100 people in New South Wales, conducted by Essential Research, also indicated that 81 percent of those surveyed agreed that the coal and coal seam gas industries threaten the state’s farmland and agricultural industries.

Another finding was that 81pc of respondents agreed that coal or coal seam gas extraction offered short term economic return to investors, but at the expense of local long term industries such as farming and tourism. 

NSW Farmers, one of the groups which commissioned the research, said that despite public concerns about impacts, regulatory regimes in NSW still failed to protect land and water resources. 

“NSW Farmers is not against coal or coal seam gas and recognises these industries have a place," NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson said.

"However, when a government continues to ignore the very valid concerns that landowners and the wider public have, it puts people in a position where they are massively disempowered.

"This ends in calls for the granting of rights to landowners to give them the right to say no to mining and petroleum companies accessing their land. We understand fully why those calls are being made."

“These concerns are why our association has welcomed the water trigger amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 which passed through the Senate yesterday.

Ms SImson said that while some would argue that the amendements made to the ECBC act yesterday would just amount to more green tape and bureacracy getting in the way of development, the production it would provide for water resources, based on science, had to be a good thing.

"We are certainly not getting that protection from our current state regime,” she said.


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