Amid renewed community concern over plans for 16 new or expanded coal mines in the upper Hunter Valley, the Australian Conservation Foundation has exposed a major flaw in a draft agreement between the NSW and Commonwealth governments on environmental assessment powers.
ACF’s submission on the draft assessment agreement shows NSW policy allows for companies to double count sites as biodiversity and carbon offsets, even though this practise is specifically prohibited under national law.
“The NSW Major Projects Offsets Policy allows for double counting of biodiversity and carbon offsets, even though Commonwealth law specifically precludes this,” said ACF’s James Trezise.
“These Commonwealth safeguards prevent taxpayer dollars being spent on biodiversity offsets that are used to justify developments by big business.
“Without these safeguards nationally threatened species and ecosystems will be cheated out of the habitat they need to survive.
“Public confidence in environmental regulation in NSW is already at rock bottom following ICAC’s mining licence revelations, whistleblower concerns about the mining industry dominating environmental assessments and numerous CSG leaks across the state.
“And people are reeling from the news that huge areas of the Upper Hunter could be cleared for up to 16 new or expanded open-cut coal mines.
“The Commonwealth Government’s reforms are based around the idea that the states will lift their standards. Clearly they are not.
“Instead people are becoming more disillusioned by an environmental regulation system that is being engineered to smooth the way for more mining and resource extraction.”
A 2014 analysis of Australian environment laws for Places You Love, a coalition of 42 environment groups, showed none of Australia’s states or territories had laws that were capable of meeting national standards.