BYLONG residents have been "forced to step up" to defend the Independent Planning Commission's rejection of the Bylong coal mine after the IPC and NSW Government declined to take an active part in an appeal against the rejection.
Bylong Valley Protection Alliance will attempt to join legal proceedings against Korean energy company KEPCO which is seeking a judicial review against the commission's refusal.
The Environmental Defenders Office will argue the alliance's case to join the Land and Environment Court matter during a hearing on February 28, after giving notice to the court during a brief hearing on Friday.
Bylong farmer and alliance president Phillip Kennedy said the group was shocked to hear that the IPC and the NSW Government would not actively defend the case against KEPCO, so "we feel our community has been forced to step up".
"We can't believe it's left to communities like ours to defend the rule of law against mining giants in NSW. It seems bizarre for the farmland and water resources of our valley to be left defenceless," Mr Kennedy said.
"We have been fighting against this mine proposal for many years but what's at stake is so important to us and everyone in NSW - healthy soils, rich heritage and a safe climate. At a time when extreme weather has caused chaos throughout so much of NSW, we have been able to continue farming here, producing food and fodder not just for the cities, but for drought affected regions as well.
"To allow the Bylong Valley to be ripped up for a thermal coal mine would be just wrong, and if our governments and public authorities won't stand up to protect it, we certainly will."
In September the Independent Planning Commission ruled that the risks posed by the proposed coal mine to water, land and future generations through its contribution to climate change were too great.
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said it was "incredibly disappointing the IPC has washed its hands of this matter and is not going to defend its own decision in court".
It was a particularly concerning move after the NSW Government introduced a bill in parliament to weaken climate change considerations for coal mines in the wake of the Bylong decision, and an overhaul of the Independent Planning Commission announced this month.
Environmental Defenders Office principal lawyer Elaine Johnson said it was unusual for a decision-maker in similar not to participate or make submissions to the court on matters of law.
To allow the Bylong Valley to be ripped up for a thermal coal mine would be just wrong, and if our governments and public authorities won't stand up to protect it, we certainly will.Bylong resident Phillip Kennedy.
"It's now up to the community to defend the Bylong refusal," Ms Johnson said.
The IPC was designed to give people confidence that major planning decisions were made at arm's length from politics, and it ruled a coal mine in the Bylong Valley was not in the public interest.
"Unable to challenge the merits of the decision, KEPCO has launched a judicial review of the process itself, while the coal industry has mounted a full-scale public campaign against the IPC.
"The commission has decided not to participate in this process. Fortunately, EDO and our clients are there to fill the gap. The people of Bylong are standing strong. In the NSW Government's absence, our clients are seeking to participate in this judicial review to defend their community and preserve this land and its water for future generations."
The Land and Environment Court set an August date for the full hearing of KEPCO's case. The Australian arm of the company is seeking a judicial review despite KEPCO's Korean-based board writing the project off with a zero value after acknowledging the Bylong proposal "has no value".
The Independent Planning Commission said it cannot take an active role in the case because of the Hardiman principle of administrative law which is intended to preserve the impartiality of decision-makers.
The IPC is "not defending the matter because a successful KEPCO appeal would see the Bylong project referred back to the IPC", the commission said.
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