Korea Electric Power Corp.’s plan to develop coal mines in the Bylong Valley of New South Wales (NSW), Australia, is facing stiff opposition from local residents and environmentalist groups.
KEPCO plans to develop a series of open-cut and underground coal mines in the valley, which is northeast of Mudgee, to extract 6.5 million tons of coal per annum for 25 years.
The plan has already won approval from the NSW government. The NSW Department of Planning and Environment completed its final assessment report in October last year and recommended the development be approved, subject to stringent conditions. It referred the project to the Independent Planning Commission (IPC), which has the final say on it.
The IPC was expected to make a decision on the plan soon. Yet it keeps delaying its decision.
While the commission’s decision is delayed, local residents and environmentalists have been stepping up their campaign against the plan. In particular, they are encouraged by a “historic” verdict in February of the NSW land and environment court.
The court ruled that Gloucester Resources’ Rocky Hill coal mine in the state’s Hunter Valley should not go ahead, in part because of its social impact on the town of Gloucester and because a new coalmine was not compatible with Australia’s commitments under the Paris agreement.
Environmental activists and local residents are hoping that the judgment in the Rocky Hill case will sway the IPC to reject the KEPCO project.
They say that KEPCO’s Bylong Valley plan has similarities to the Rocky Hill project so the court’s decision in the latter is applicable to the former.
Following the court’s ruling, KEPCO noted in a submission to the IPC that the proposed coal mine would not worsen pollution in Australia because the extracted coal would be burned in Korea to generate power.
However, the judge who ruled on the Rocky Hill case said that emissions from the burning of coal in other countries should be considered when determining a project’s environmental impact.
In its submission, KEPCO said the Bylong Valley project would make a “negligible contribution” to global climate change, as the emissions from burning coal from the project would be 197.4m tons of carbon dioxide equivalent over 23 years.
It also argued that a rejection of the Bylong project would force it to use lower quality coal that would lead to “a poorer environmental outcome.”
KEPCO also notes that the project would help the local economy prosper as it is expected to create up to 645 jobs during construction and 450 jobs during the peak operational phase.
It remains to be seen how the IPC decides on the matter. But news reports from Australia say that the Rocky Hill decision will strongly influence the way the committee assesses future fossil fuel projects.