Coal mining - the problems
In 2014 the Planning Assessment Commission rejected Coalpac open-cut mining proposals and its time to reserve the Gardens of Stone region. Right now, though, the friends of coal, such as EnergyAustralia, are rallying their forces to support open-cut mining in this area. In 2012 the Planning Assessment Commission rejected the original Coalpac open-cut mining proposal that would have generated enough waste rock to almost fill Sydney Harbour.
Open-cut mining still threatens the Ben Bullen and Wolgan State Forest section of the Gardens of Stone Stage 2 reserve proposal (GoS2) with progressive destruction. The area’s biodiversity and most of its unique scenic features are largely intact despite subsidence impacts from underground mining. The large areas still threatened are found on the lower slopes of the Great Dividing Range on Permian sediments, where the coal is accessible to opencut methods. This is also where the richer forests and Endangered Ecological Communities grow, and where most of the threatened species live.
The alternative to mining is a magnificent conservation reserve. This part of the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area alone would protect at least 135 species of vertebrate wildlife, more than 20 threatened species, three Endangered Ecological Communities, superb forest and woodlands and masses of wondrously scenic pagodas. It will also provide sustainable and valuable benefits to public recreation and the local economy for centuries.
The Colong Foundation's submission to the 2014 modified proposals pointing to new information on chemical pollution from the existing operations and a new NPWS report that emphasised the conservation significance of the public forests at Ben Bullen. The Australia Institute submission pointed out serious flaws in the economic justifications used for mining the resource.
The Colong Foundation's submission to the original, integrated proposal argued that the area's heritage values were outstanding and irreplacable while the coal resources were poor quality high-ash, high-shale remnants from underground mining that removed the valuable Lithgow seam. These remnants could be substitued with other coal resources from mines established to supply the power plants with coal. These arguments were further elaborated in a report on the environmental significance of the Coalpac site.
Open-cut coal mining will also increase death rate in the community of the nearby township of Cullen Bullen. The Department of Health believes that mortality in the town will increase by 3 per cent if the mine is approved. The effects of mining and burning coal are reviewed in this 2011 paper to the Medical Journal of Australia.