The Bylong Valley coal project has suffered another blow after the South Korean Government backed KEPCO lost a second legal appeal over the Independent Planning Commission's (IPC) 2019 decision to reject its planned coal mine at Bylong due to the impact it would have had on water, highly productive farming country, and the climate.
KEPCO, which spent a decade trying to get the greenfield mine approved before its refusal, appealed the IPC decision in late 2020.
The loss comes as pressure from South Korea mounts on the company to abandon the proposal as the country moves toward plans to significantly cut coal-fired power use over the next two decades because of serious air pollution concerns and to reduce carbon emissions.
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In its decision at the time, the IPC based its refusal on environmental impacts other than climate change, including impacts on agricultural land, groundwater and Aboriginal cultural heritage. But ultimately the IPC found the contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions was a factor that needed to be considered in its assessment, and pointed out the applicant's failure to suggest any offset measures.
Bylong Valley Protection Alliance spokesperson Phillip Kennedy said the NSW Government must act now to secure the land for farming families, so Bylong could once again be home to a thriving community.
"KEPCO's foolish foray into Bylong has driven farmers and their families out. There is no one operating the local store any more - the valley is a shell of its former self," he said.
"This is the reality of what happens when a coal mining company tries to come to town.
"Despite all this, there is still a community here. We want the Berejiklian Government to extinguish the coal licence, just like it did with Shenhua on the Liverpool Plains, so Bylong can once again be the prosperous town it used to be."
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Nic Clyde also said the NSW Government needed to intervene to break a stalemate where farming interests were unable to buy back farmland from a company that was unable to develop a coal mine.
"If the NSW Government offered modest compensation to KEPCO in exchange for cancellation of their coal lease, then our understanding is that farmers would look after the rest," he said.
"There is pressure from South Korea on KEPCO to sell its Bylong Valley properties before the corporation loses any more money.
"The NSW Government must take advantage of this. John Barilaro needs to do what he did with Shenhua, extinguish KEPCO's coal licence, and permanently rule out coal mining in the Bylong Valley food bowl.
"As the Independent Planning Commission found, this agricultural powerhouse is simply too important to be sacrificed for a coal mine."
Phillip Kennedy said it's imperative that should KEPCO walk away from the project, that everything be done to bring the Bylong area back to its former glory, which begins with farmers coming back to the area.
"Hopefully these farms will sell off one by one or individually rather than a job lot and get the mums and dads back into this valley again like it was before," he said.
"Before we came along here, they tell me it was quite a vibrant community with the mouse races, etc. So if they could do that, rather than a corporate model and foreign investment would be would be great. If you could replace the 10, 12 or 14 families that left the valley that'd be good."
Represented by the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), the BVPA argued the IPC was right when it rejected the coal mine based on the harm it would inflict on the region's high-value agricultural soils, the valley's water, and the greenhouse gases it would produce.
EDO Managing Lawyer Rana Koroglu said it's time for KEPCO to walk away.
"This is the third time this destructive and climate-wrecking coal mine proposal has been defeated - first in the Independent Planning Commission, then in the Land and Environment Court, and now in the NSW Court of Appeal. It's time for the proponent KEPCO to walk away.
"The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report delivered a 'Code Red' for humanity on climate. It's clear we cannot afford to develop more greenfield coal mines at a time when the world needs to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The South Korean Government, a majority stake owner in KEPCO, has recently committed to increasing its emissions targets to a 40% reduction by 2030."