Until Friday, 16th December you can make a submission on Delta Coal’s plans to consolidate two of their mines at Lake Macquarie, which would produce another 9.5 MILLION tonnes of coal.
EJA is making a submission on behalf of our client, the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.
To assist with NCC’s submission and to ensure that the Project undergoes a proper environmental impact assessment, we engaged an expert to provide his expert opinion on some of the environmental impacts of the Project. You can read the expert’s full report here, and you’ll find a summary of the information in some of the questions below.
Use these questions to help you write your submission. If you’d like extra guidance or have further questions, RSVP to the community briefing at 7PM AEDT on Monday, 12th December, or email us at [email protected].
Writing a submission
Can I make a submission on behalf of an organisation or group?
Yes, you can. You can make a submission on behalf of an organisation or as an individual. If you are making a submission on behalf of an organisation you need to include this in the submission.
Remember – for the Project to be referred to the Independent Planning Commission the Department must receive 50 unique objections to the Project.
Can I include a personal comment in my submission?
Absolutely! Our submission form will invite you to introduce yourself and explain why you’re making a submission, so you can include personal reflections in this section. You can also include your personal concerns and experiences about the main impacts of the Project we’ve outlined in the open text fields provided.
Will my submission be more impactful if it's long or short?
The Department is accepting comments from the public – and you don’t need to be a lawyer or scientist to share your views.
Your thoughts matter, and the Department is legally required to consider every comment.
You can write just a few sentences, or a few hundred words, or you can make a submission via the Major Projects Planning Portal and attach a whole document with a carefully footnoted submission. If you want to know what to write and how to answer the questions to make the most impact, our submission form provides you with guidance and a step-by-step process.
What’s most important is that your submission is unique, meaning something you have personally written, not something copied and pasted from a friend or elsewhere.
Where should I make my submission? Should I use the Major Projects Poral or the EJA website?
Either option is great! We’ve created a form on our website to make the process easier and to share some of our client’s key concerns. We’ll compile the submissions we get through our website and send them to the Department on your behalf.
You can also make a submission via NSW’s Major Projects Portal. Just click on ‘Make a submission’. You will need a user account on the portal in order to make a submission this way.
Can I copy and paste my friend's submission?
To count towards the 50 objections needed for referral of the Project to the Independent Planning Commission, your submission must be unique.
Submissions are counted in accordance with section 2.7(6) of the State Environmental Planning Policy (Planning Systems) 2021, which means a petition or any submission that contains the same or substantially the same text is counted as one submission.
Will my submission be published?
When you make a submission, the Department will publish your:
- name (unless you request it be withheld)
- submission and any attachments (including any personal information you have included in those documents)
- political donations disclosure statement (if applicable), in accordance with the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.
Can I include impact's that are not covered in EJA's guide?
Yes! You may have local knowledge about the impacts of mining in the Lake Macquarie area that we don’t have. Maybe you’ve noticed changes and environmental or health impacts during the life of the Chain Valley and Mannering mines – we encourage you to include these reflections in your submission.
Questions about the Project
Who assesses the Project?
The NSW Minister for Planning has delegated his powers to the Department of Planning and Environment to assess projects that are classified as a state significant development. The Project is a state significant development and therefore can be assessed by the Department of Planning and Environment.
However, if the Department receives 50 objections to the Project during the public consultation period, the Independent Planning Commission becomes the decision-maker.
What does the Department need to consider in assessing the Project?
Section 4.15 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 provides that the Department must take into consideration the following matters when they are assessing the Project:
- among other things, the provisions of any environmental planning instrument – for example the Resources and Energy SEPP which governs how mining proposals are assessed and developed in NSW;
- the ‘likely impacts’ of the development, including the likely environmental impacts, social impacts and economic impacts of the development;
- submissions made in accordance with the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and its Regulations; and
- the public interest – which extends to the principles of ecologically sustainable development such as the precautionary principle, intergenerational equity, conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity and the polluter pays principle.
The meaning of the principles of ecologically sustainable development is described below:
- Precautionary principle: the precautionary principle means that lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing steps to prevent degradation of harm to the environment where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage.
- Intergenerational equity: involves both intergenerational equity (that is, equity between the needs of the present and future generations) and intragenerational equity (that is, equity within the present generation and its needs). Needs that must be equitably shared relates to economic development, social development and environmental protection.
- Conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity: this involves conservation of the ecological processes that keep the planet fit for life. Maintaining ecological integrity involves maintaining ecosystem health, functioning and services.
- Polluter pays: this principles establishes that those who generate pollution and waste should bear the cost of containment, avoidance or abatement.
The Department must consider the 'likely impacts' of the Project - what are these?
The expression ‘likely impacts’ has been considered by the courts, which have established that:
- an impact is ‘likely’ if there is a ‘real chance or possibility’ of the impact whether or not the impact is ‘more probable than not’;
- a ‘likely impact’ requires consideration of both direct on-site impacts and the direct and indirect off-site impacts of the proposed development;
- an off-site impact, or a secondary impact, can be a ‘likely impact’ of a development if there is a connection, or a ‘real and sufficient link’, between the impact and the proposed development.
NCC submits that a number of off-site impacts of the Project have not been properly addressed in the environmental impact statement for the Project, but that they should be because they are sufficiently connected to the Project and are therefore ‘likely impacts’ of the Project.
I am concerned about the air quality and health impacts of the Project. Does the Department have to consider this?
Yes, the Department must consider the air quality and health impacts of the Project.
However, from our review of the documents provided by Delta Coal, the environmental impact statement (EIS) does not appear to:
- assess the offsite air quality impacts of burning the coal extracted from the mines at Vales Point Power Station – including the NOx, SO2, PM10 and PM2.5 and mercury emitted from the power station;
- consider the impact of NOx, SO2, PM10 and PM2.5 and mercury on community health; and
- assess the combustion emissions from the possible 270 laden coal trucks used to transport coal to the Port of Newcastle on a daily basis.
NCC’s position is that the Department must consider the off-site air quality and health impacts of the Project because they are ‘likely impacts’ of the Project.
NCC’s submits that the EIS should consider all the likely impacts relating to air quality and health, including:
- the nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), coarse and fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) and mercury pollution created by burning the coal extracted from these mines at Vales Point Power Station;
- the health impacts of this air pollution: cardiovascular effects including heart disease and stroke, respiratory illness like asthma in children and newborns being born with low birthweight;
- the potential air pollution from coal trucks taking the coal to the Port of Newcastle every day.
NCC and the Environmental Justice Australia legal team assert that the EIS does not properly address the air quality impacts that will arise from the Project because it does not consider the air pollution and related health impacts from burning the coal extracted from the mines at Vales Point Power Station.
I am concerned about the Project's impacts on water and the environment. Does the Department have to consider this?
Yes. The Department must consider the Project’s impact on water resources as well as biodiversity.
However, based on a review of the environmental impact statement (EIS) conducted by an expert in mining and geotechnical engineering, the potential impacts of the Project on water resources and their related biodiversity do not appear to have been adequately addressed in the EIS.
Notably, the Project proposes to continue pumping out groundwater from the underground mines to the surface of the mines and into sediment dams where it is stored. Other dirty runoff water from the Project site such as water that has come into contact with coal is also diverted to the sediment dams. The sediment dams discharge into Swindles Creek. Swindles Creek discharges directly into Lake Macquarie.
The expert identified the following limitations of the EIS:
- The surface water assessment does not interrogate the potential impacts of mine wastewater being discharged from the sediment dams into Swindles Creek. This is despite the EIS noting exceedances for salinity parameters, nitrogen compounds, fecal coliform, and some dissolved metals (Al, Ba, Fe, Mn and Zn) in samples collected from Swindles Creek.
- It does not assess elevated levels of heavy metals in surface water.
- It does not include an assessment of any likely flooding impacts.
- The EIS does not adequately assess the impacts of the Project on local biodiversity, particularly the potential impacts on the ecology of Swindles Creek.
- It does not include a detailed assessment of the potential impacts of the Project on the ecology of Swindles Creek.
- The groundwater assessment does not adequately characterise and assess the quality of groundwater extracted from the mining operations.
- The groundwater assessment is cursory and not based on any rigorous analysis, instead relying on historical data trends – which is insufficient for a thorough assessment.
- It is not clear from the groundwater assessment how much monitoring of private groundwater bores has occurred to inform assessment for the Project.
NCC is submitting that the EIS must properly consider the likely impacts of the Project on groundwater, surface water and biodiversity – this includes an assessment of the potential for impacts to aquatic, benthic and riparian communities that could result from the large-scale pumping out of groundwater from the mine and the discharge of that water into Swindles Creek and Lake Macquarie.
NCC is submitting that the EIS takes an unacceptable approach to impact assessment which does not enable the Department to properly assess the likely impacts of the Project on groundwater, surface water and biodiversity.
I am concerned about subsidence. Does the Department have to consider this?
Yes. This is a likely impact of the Project that the Department must consider.
Subsidence (or land sinking) from underground mining can cause two significant potential negative impacts:
- impacts to biodiversity, with focus on the foreshore, seagrass, and benthic organisms; and
- impacts to manmade structures, infrastructure and surface facilities.
Based on a review of the EIS conducted by an expert in mining and geotechnical engineering, the likely subsidence impacts of the Project do not appear to have been adequately addressed in the EIS. The expert identified the following inadequacies of the EIS:
- the assessment relies entirely on past predictions of subsidence and existing performance measures and monitoring – it does not include a new subsidence assessment for the Project;
- review of the graphical representations of subsidence indicates that subsidence is generally increasing over time for the shoreline monitoring data as a whole;
- it appears that sea floor surveys over Zone B mining areas are discontinued 3 years after mining in the underlying area is complete, with no justification provided and that this may not be appropriate given that the highest levels of subsidence as measured by the surveys that occurred in 2020 took place over areas mined in 2017;
- there is considerable uncertainty associated with predicting subsidence associated with underground coal mining which are not given sufficient consideration in the EIS.
The expert concluded that the subsidence assessment does not include a detailed assessment of the potential subsidence effects and impacts of the Project. In his view, the assessment does not evaluate the adequacy and results of past monitoring or the potential impacts to ecological receptors above the mines, such as Lake Macquarie, in the event that subsidence exceeds predicted levels.
NCC is submitting that the EIS does not adequately address potential subsidence impacts and that the Department must require further information from Delta Coal in order to thoroughly assess and determine the Project.
I am concerned about traffic impacts. Does the Department have to consider this?
Yes, the EIS must assess the likely transport impacts and the decision maker must consider whether the Project should be issued with conditions that limit or preclude truck movements, in connection with the Project, that occur on roads in residential areas or on roads near to schools.
While Delta Coal states it expects the coal to supply Vales Point Power Station, the Project does also allow for the transportation of up to 660,000 tonnes per year of coal from the mine on public roads to the Port of Newcastle for export. It also enables the transportation of up to 180,000 tonnes per year of coal to domestic customers, other than Vales Point Power Station. The EIS indicates that this would result in up to:
- a total of 270 laden coal trucks per day by public roads;
- a total of 32 laden coal trucks per hour; and
- an average of 16 laden coal trucks per hour by public roads during peak hour periods.
NCC submits that it is not possible for the Minister to properly consider what conditions should be applied to the Project in relation to the transport of materials due to the limited information provided in the EIS.
The Traffic Assessment is out of date and does not provide a detailed route for transportation of coal by truck to the Port of Newcastle, particularly with respect to roads near residential areas or schools. It is therefore not possible on the information before the Department to properly consider the likely impacts of the Project on the capacity, condition, safety and efficiency of the local and regional road network and what, if any, conditions of consent should apply to the Project having regard to potential truck movements.
I am concerned about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. What does the Department have to consider?
The Department must consider an assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions (including downstream or Scope 3 emissions) of the development, and must do so having regard to any applicable State or national policies, programs or guidelines concerning greenhouse gas emissions
The Department must also consider whether the Project should be approved subject to conditions aimed at ensuring that the Project is undertaken in an environmentally responsible manner, including conditions to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions are minimised to the greatest extent practicable.
The Department must also consider the ‘likely impacts’ of the Project, including the likely environmental impacts, social impacts and economic impacts of the Project.
NCC’s position is that the EIS fails to assess the likely impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from the Project in contributing to climate change and climate harms. NCC objects to the Project on the basis that Australia’s GHG emissions must be urgently reduced by 74% by 2030, while the Project would instead increase Australia’s emissions by 25 million tonnes over the next 7 years.
Can I see a sample submission?
You can see a sample submission below. Remember, submissions cannot be substantially the same or they may be counted together as one submission. You must write your submission in your own words for it to count.
I am a retired nurse and grandmother. I am deeply concerned about the proposal to expand the mines underneath Lake Macquarie and what this means for community health. My grandson suffers from asthma and I worry that air pollution from the mines and burning the coal from the mines might contribute to his condition. As a former nurse, I also saw firsthand the shocking effect that asthma and other respiratory illnesses can have on patients and their families.
All of the ‘likely impacts’ of the Project must be considered by the Department – including offsite impacts that are sufficiently linked to the Project. From a review of the EIS, it does not appear that Delta Coal has properly assessed the likely impacts of the Project because the EIS does not consider the impacts of burning the coal extracted from the Chain Valley and Mannering Colliery at Vales Point Power Station. This produces toxic air pollutants that impact air quality and community health. These are likely impacts of the Project that must be examined by the Department.
I am concerned about the potential impacts of the Project on water quality and biodiversity. The EIS does not appear to adequately assess the impacts of the Project on groundwater or surface water. I am especially concerned about the likely impact of the Project on Swindles Creek due to discharges of mine water into the creek. It does not appear that there has been a thorough assessment of the potential for contamination of this creek and the impacts this may have on its ecology. Swindles Creek runs into Lake Macquarie. The health of our Lake must be properly protected for future generations.
I am also concerned about the potential impacts of the Project on subsidence – especially when there is considerable uncertainty associated with predicting subsidence associated with underground coal mining. Based on the EIS it does not appear that there has been a thorough evaluation of the potential mitigation actions that will occur if subsidence exceeds predictions.
Finally, the EIS estimates that the Project will result in over 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, with over 90% of these being Scope 3 emissions from burning the coal at Vales Point Power Station. GHG emissions contribute to climate change, which, as the EIS acknowledges, is generating environmental impacts across generations.
For the reasons above, I object to the Project.
What happens next?
Once the Department closes the exhibition period it will publish all submissions online and ask Delta Coal to prepare a submissions report. The submissions report must provide:
- an analysis of the issues raised in submissions
- a description of what Delta Coal has done since exhibition to address these issues
- an updated evaluation of the merits of the Project incorporating the findings of any further assessment or community engagement.
The submissions report will be published on the Project webpage on the NSW Planning Portal.
After publishing the submissions report, the Department will complete its assessment of the merits of the Project and prepare an assessment report. This typically involves assessing the economic, environmental, and social impacts of the Project against relevant standards and criteria, consulting with other government agencies, checking the Project complies with statutory requirements and preparing recommended conditions of consent (if warranted).
Once complete, the Department will publish the assessment report online and ask the consent authority to determine the project.
Importantly, if more than 50 objections are made to the Project, the consent authority will be the Independent Planning Commission.
If 50+ objections are made on the Project and the Independent Planning Commission becomes the decision maker, what does this mean?
If more than 50 objections are made to the Project, the IPC becomes the decision maker. This would result in additional scrutiny of the Project by an appointed panel of commissioners and allow for further community participation in the assessment process.
The IPC panel would:
- hold targeted meetings with the developer (Delta Coal), the Department, the local council, and others;
- hold a public meeting where appropriate, or a public hearing if directed by the Minister;
- take and consider written public submissions on the Project;
- make a determination based on legislation and policy to either refuse or approve the Project; and
- publish a Statement of Reasons explaining the reasons for the decision.