Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

Minister Burke must act to protect endangered swamps and correct a mining company’s misleading plans

“Environment Minister Tony Burke must act to protect the best remaining intact nationally endangered swamps on Newnes Plateau by refusing to allow longwall coal mining under them,” said Keith Muir director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness.

“In two mining proposals on exhibition under Federal environmental laws, Centennial Coal relies on a report that denies that longwall mining causes damage to swamps. These proposals to mine under the swamps on Newnes Plateau is likely to cause needless damage, and Minister Burke must stop it”, he said.

“In its development proposals Centennial predicts that minor cracking will “self-heal”. Yet Centennial has no evidence of self-healing cracks, but does have evidence of its mine related cracking below East Wolgan Swamp that can capture 14 megalitres of water a day! Centennial prefers denial of its damage to the expense of environment protection, and Minister Burke act to stop the damage”, said Mr Muir.

A media release last October explained that the “Australian Government takes environmental protection seriously, and will not tolerate companies causing needless damage to the environment.*”  “It’s time for decisive Federal Government action to match its rhetoric,” Mr Muir said.

Centennial’s denial of damage is contradicted by an investigation by the federal environment department that found “the long wall coal mining operations of Centennial Coal on the Newnes Plateau, near Lithgow, New South Wales, had caused a significant impact on the endangered Temperate highland peat swamps on sandstone ecological community”*, Mr Muir said. “This finding led to an enforceable undertaking where Centennial committed to pay $1.45 million to swamp research after causing damage to a nationally threatened ecological community,” he added.

“This federal investigation is not only backed up NSW’s scientists who have listedlongwall coal mining as a threatening process for these rare swamps, but also by Centennial Coal’s monitoring data,” Mr Muir revealed.

“Centennial’s monitoring of Junction Swamp, for example, reveals that flows over a weir ceased after longwall mining and that groundwater levels fell and did not recover. Eucalypts then began to grow out of the swamp, while Sphagnum moss, tea trees, coral fern, sedge and rushes declined”. Yet in its development proposals lodged with the Federal Government, Centennial’s consultants report “no adverse impacts identified from mining” to the swamp vegetation,” said Mr Muir.

“In the case of East Wolgan Swamp reports on the drying out and subsequent collapse of peat soil totally annihilate Centennial’s claim of no damage to the aquifers that underlie swamps made is in its proposals before the Federal Government”, he said.

“Minister Burke must require Centennial Coal to place surface subsidence protection zones around all the nationally endangered swamps of Newnes Plateau.  The Minister should also ensure Centennial’s apparent misstatements in its development applications and failure to consider its monitoring data are fully remedied, by punitive legal action, if necessary”, Mr Muir said.

For more info contact: Keith Muir, (02) 9261 2400 (wk); 9550 3615 (ah); 0412 791 404 (mob)

*Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population, the Arts and Communities, 
media release, 21 October, 2011, Mining company to pay for environmental damage.