Lawyers and environment groups are celebrating new requirements on plans to flood the Hazelwood coal mine but say more must be done to protect Gippsland’s water supply and reduce the risks posed by toxic coal ash.
After receiving 145 public submissions, the Victorian Government has strengthened the assessment requirements for the Environmental Effects Statement (EES) to ensure greater accountability from the mine operator, Engie.
Engie’s plan to flood the mine would take almost two decades and will use more water than is in Sydney Harbour – 637 giga litres – plus another five to 10 billion litres of water every year just to offset the evaporation.
Under the changes, Engie is now required to consider the technical feasibility of alternatives to their proposed pit lake and alternative water sources – which could include the use of recycled or desalinated water.
Engie is also required to consider other feasible alternative rehabilitation methods raised by the community. Local community members have called on Engie to remove its toxic coal ash dump before flooding the mine.
Coal ash is a toxic by-product of mining that has lethal concentrations of mercury, lead, arsenic, selenium and chromium. The coal ash dump inside the mine contains 1.5 million cubic metres of toxic coal ash, which is the size of the MCG.
In a win for the local community, Engie will be required to assess its plans under different climate change scenarios and consider potential impacts on the health and condition of Gunai Kurnai country, water resources, biodiversity, ecological, cultural, recreational and agricultural values.
This includes considering the impact of the pit lake on downstream areas like the Ramsar-listed Gippsland Lakes and how all impacts could be exacerbated by a changing climate.
The assessment requirements are available online.
Friends of Latrobe Valley Water spokesperson Tracey Anton said:
“Our efforts to protect the Latrobe Valley community and our precious water supply are paying off and we need to keep the pressure up on both Engie and government.
Community members here in the Valley want Engie to clean-up its toxic coal ash dump before the whole mine floor is flooded.
The current full pit lake plan risks the future of the Latrobe River system, Aboriginal cultural heritage and our internationally recognised Gippsland Lakes. It would also take water away from agriculture and other industries in our region.
We’ll keep holding Engie to account because rehabilitation should never be a giant experiment. Our water security and health can’t be traded-off for decades to come.“
Environmental Justice Australia Senior Specialist Lawyer Charley Brumby–Rendell said:
“We don’t usually see substantive changes to assessment requirements, so this is a huge win for the Gippsland community and everyone who wrote a submission to the Victorian Government.
Engie’s plan to flood the mine, without removing the toxic coal ash, comes with serious risks to the community and environment.
Community members in the Valley have told us they are concerned about the toxic pit-lake plan and they want to see other rehabilitation options and water sources on the table.“
Environment Victoria spokesperson Hayley Sestokas said:
“Latrobe Valley residents have a right to be worried by Engie’s plans. We’ve seen multinational companies cut corners before, with devastating consequences.
There are two other mines in the Valley that still need to be rehabilitated, so we can’t afford to get this wrong.
The Latrobe River system is already under stress, so locals are right to question Engie’s plans for a pit-lake. Experts say the water may be unsafe for decades to come – which sounds like an environmental disaster in the making.”