Media Releases | 22nd Feb, 2023

Federal government pulls ‘water trigger’ over controversial plan to flood Victorian open-cut coal mine

The federal government has announced Engie’s plan to fill Hazelwood coal mine with almost double Melbourne’s annual water consumption will now be scrutinised under federal environment law.

This is fantastic news for the Latrobe Valley and the result of calls from Environmental Justice Australia, Friends of Latrobe Water and Environment Victoria for the government to ensure Engie’s plan was thoroughly scrutinised, including the impacts of using a huge volume of water and risk of groundwater and downstream contamination.

Engie’s proposal would take more than 20 years and use a whopping 638 billion litres of water. It would take another five billion litres each year just to offset evaporation.

The ‘water trigger’ under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act has previously been applied to new coal mine developments and extensions to existing mines. Today’s news confirms it also applies to mines being rehabilitated as ‘pit lakes’ and sets an important precedent as coal power stations close across the country in coming years.

It comes after independent expert reports revealed another problem with Engie’s plans, that flooding the mine pit without removing the highly toxic pollution stored inside the mine, would release this pollution into groundwater and local waterways, and make its way towards the Gippsland Lakes.

“Engie thought they could avoid the federal government scrutinising the true impacts of their plan on the Latrobe River system and groundwater sources, but the government has listened to the community, and in doing so set a vital precedent that rehabilitation of all Latrobe Valley mines will require federal scrutiny,” EJA lawyer Chloe Badcock said.

“This decision makes clear the impacts of mining don’t end when the digging stops and the potentially devastating impacts of using huge amounts of water at every stage of coal mining must be investigated.”

“Taking so much water out of the river system cannot sustain important river flows and would have devastating impacts to river health and threatened animals like golden bell frogs and Australasian Bitterns that call rivers, and the internationally protected Gippsland Lakes, home. Now we know the government must ensure Engie properly investigates these devastating impacts.”

Engie must now investigate the impacts their proposal would have on the Ramsar listed Gippsland Lakes, threatened species and migratory species.

“Our community has been pushing for transparency and action on pollution from coal mining for decades. We’re cautiously optimistic that the federal government is requiring more scrutiny and will uncover the true damage Engie’s plans to flood the Hazelwood mine will cause if the plan goes ahead in its current state,” Friends of Latrobe Water spokesperson Hayley Sestokas said.

“This decision sets an important precedent for rehabilitating the other coal mines in the Latrobe Valley. It sends a clear message that coal companies cannot get away with cheap band aid solutions without scrutiny.”

Environment Victoria Policy and Advocacy Manager Bronya Lipski said: “Following the Hazelwood mine fire and litany of other damaging impacts resulting from coal mine failures in the Latrobe Valley, the Victorian public deserve nothing less than knowing proper scrutiny is now being applied to mine rehabilitation.”

For comment

Environment Victoria
Greg Foyster
Phone: 0410 879 031