The New South Wales government has taken the unprecedented step of granting a yet unseen mine plan State Significant Infrastructure (SSI) status.
- The NSW Government has declared the proposed Dendrobium mine State Significant Infrastructure
- Owner South32 says it provides a pathway forward forward
- Environmental groups warns it is dangerous and risky decision
On Saturday Resources Minister, Paul Toole and Planning Minister Rob Stokes announced South32’s proposal to extend its Dendrobium coal mine near Wollongong had been declared SSI.
The Minister for Planning can deem projects SSI if he considers them essential for economic, environmental or social reasons.
In February the state’s Independent Planning Commission (IPC) rejected the company’s plan to extract an additional 78 million tonnes of coal from its Dendrobium mine until 2048.
The IPC found the project should be refused.
“Based on the potential for long-term and irreversible impacts — particularly on the integrity of a vital drinking water source for the Macarthur and Illawarra regions, the Wollondilly Shire and metropolitan Sydney — it is not in the public interest.”
The IPC also found that “coal from Dendrobium Mine does contribute to steel making at Bluescope Steelworks but it’s primarily destined for other markets beyond the Illawarra Region”.
It pointed to the mine’s figures from 2019, showing 77 per cent of coking coal from Dendrobium was exported out of the region.
The IPC also rejected the company’s portrayal of the significance of the Wongawilli coal seam.
“The Commission does not accept the Applicants characterisation of the ongoing economic contribution of Wongawilli Seam coal form the Dendrobium Mine.”
In August South32 revealed in its Full Year Results it was engaging with the government on its request for a SSI declaration for the project.
‘Critical’ source of coking coal
In supporting the request, Minister Toole said metallurgical coal from the mine was essential for Bluescope.
“This decision recognises the proposal’s potential economic benefits, with the mine already contributing $1.9 billion to the state’s economy each year, employing 4,500 workers and supporting another 10,000 jobs across the Illawarra.”
The decision means Planning Minister, Rob Stokes will now be the consent authority for the project.
Mr Stokes said the decision also followed a motion of support from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation MLC, Mark Latham in the Upper House in May.
A pathway forward
In a statement South32 welcomed the decision.
“This marks an important step, providing a pathway for the submission of an alternate mine plan to the NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, to be assessed as SSI,” the statement said.
“We continue to consider our options to determine the best path forward for Illawarra Metallurgical Coal, to continue to supply metallurgical coal for local steel production and support local jobs and investment.”
The NSW Minerals Council CEO, Stephen Galilee said it was a bold and positive step.
“For this project not to proceed would be a dagger in the heart of the Illawarra economy, thousands of jobs at risk,” he said.
“The balance needs to be struck, but there needs to be an opportunity for that balance to be struck and that is what is good about this announcement as it outlines a process for that to be explored.”
‘Dangerous and risky’
Environmental groups warn the decision sets an alarming precedent by setting aside the IPC’s decision.
Lock the Gate’s Nic Clyde said the IPC played a crucial fact checking role in finding the previous project was not in the public interest.
“And was really dangerous and risky for the drinking water catchment that more than 5 million people rely on,” Mr Clyde said.
“We are really disappointed.”
Call to demonstrate need
Independent MLC, Justin Field said SSI declarations are normally used only for major road and water supply projects.
“This is unusual in the extreme,” Mr Field said.
“I am really concerned that this looks like political interference.”
Mr Field is calling on Minister Stokes to commission an independent economic assessment of the project and the region’s need for the mine.