MUSWELLBROOK'S mayor says the expansion of operations at a nearby coal mine could contribute to "education, manufacturing and livability" in the region.
However, environmental organisations say the project's emissions and air quality risks are "too significant".
As part of the Mount Pleasant Optimisation Project - recently backed by state government - MACH Energy offered $20 million to the Muswellbrook Shire Council and $6 million to the Upper Hunter Shire Council for community enhancements.
"Where that money goes will be down to the determination of councillors but I would strongly be looking at advanced manufacturing and encouraging higher education in the shire," mayor Steve Reynolds said.
"We would also want to look at livability. Things like sporting infrastructure and housing projects."
The Optimisation Project proposes extending the life of Mount Pleasant by 22 years, to December 2048, and extracting an additional 247 million tonnes (Mt) of run-of-mine (ROM) coal - from 197Mt to 444Mt.
The project would see a doubling of annual extraction from 10.5Mt to 21Mt, achieved by deepening the mine an additional 85m to the "Edderton Seam".
Slated benefits of the project include the direct employment of 600 people and $1.4 billion net contribution to the state economy.
"There are a lot of jobs protected with the expansion which supports a lot of industry," Cr Reynolds said.
In a May 31 letter to the Independent Planning Commission (IPC), who have the ultimate say on approval, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment found that "the benefits of the project outweigh its costs" and recommended approval subject to conditions.
The recommendation came despite 140 of 250 submissions received in the public exhibition period opposing the project. With Mount Pleasant located about three kilometres outside Muswellbrook, air quality and health were major concerns in opposing submissions.
Cr Reynolds said he shares the concerns around air quality but believes Mount Pleasant will be subject to "stringent controls".
"While we have seen issues with the site in the past, I hope that moving forward council will better the processes and our relationship with the mine."
The Newcastle Herald previously reported that air quality in Muswellbrook exceeded World Health Organisation guidelines 18 times in the year to May 2022.
Lock the Gate Alliance's Nic Clyde said an expansion of Mount Pleasant is likely to "worsen this problem".
"For the Planning Department to endorse this coal mine expansion shows callous disregard for Upper Hunter residents suffering from respiratory problems," Mr Clyde said.
Noting that Mount Pleasant received an average of one air quality complaint per month between 2017 and 2020, the Department's assessment report said it was "satisfied that the impacts of the project can be adequately minimised, managed or at least compensated".
Another concern raised by both Nic Clyde and opposing submissions was the project's greenhouse emissions.
Coal extracted at Mount Pleasant is "thermal" and used in energy generation. The expansion's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) says Scope Three emissions, made up largely of emissions produced in coal's combustion, will be around 860Mt.
The EIS also put Scope One and Two emissions, which include fugitive emissions and the project's energy consumption, at more than 14Mt.
"It doesn't make sense to recommend a project with such significant greenhouse impacts when Australia and the world are quite clearly calling for action on climate change," Nic Clyde said.
MACH Energy chose not to comment on this matter.
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