In September, KEPCO's Bylong Valley coal project proposal was rejected by the Independent Planning Commission, based on unacceptable groundwater impacts, unacceptable impacts to (or insufficient evidence on) biophysical strategic agricultural land, landscape, scenic, heritage and Aboriginal culture, amongst other things.
The Independent Planning Commission (IPC, formerly known as the Planning Assessment Commission, PAC) was the process set up to provide independence in the planning process.
The CWA of NSW supports independent processes to guide the decision making, especially for state significant projects, which propose to have vast impacts on natural resources and land use, like the Bylong Valley Coal project.
At some point, somebody needs to objectively weigh up the impacts versus the possible mitigation versus the economic benefit to the region and the country, and to make a call.
We hope that is exactly what has happened here in relation to Bylong.
It is now disappointing to see the NSW planning minister ask the Productivity Commission to review the IPC.
The very first term of reference for the review is "to recommend whether it is in the public interest to maintain an IPC". Other than procedurally, the IPC is not subject to ministerial control.
The review of the IPC causes a lot of uncertainty, and especially the independence of the process. State Significant Development is never going to be easy, and so impartiality and transparency is crucial.
The CWA of NSW will soon be preparing a submission for the IPC for the purposes of the Santos Narrabri Gas project, which is state significant development in the form of unconventional (coal seam) gas extraction.
Many months ago, referral to the IPC was "imminent" according to NSW government representatives. However, we are now aware that referral to the IPC is unlikely to be this year.
The Productivity Commission is due to report on the future of the IPC by mid-December. The timing is curious.
We are particularly concerned with the impact to groundwater that the Santos Narrabri Gas Project poses, as well as the production of a large volume of salty wastewater.
In the midst of our worst ever drought, there has never been a more critical time to be reminded of the preciousness of water resources and the importance of protecting both surface and groundwater.
We need our planning process for this type of development to be independent and credible.
Changing the rules half way through the game, is not on.