International – Proposed changes to the New South Wales environmental policy by the NSW Government to remove economic considerations from the assessment of important mining projects will cost jobs and hurt regional mining communities, industry associations the NSW Minerals Council said on Tuesday.

The proposal to change the mining State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) will remove a critical component designed to protect jobs. The measure within Part 3 was introduced to ensure an appropriate balance of economic, environmental and community factors during the assessment process.

At the time it was introduced the responsible Minister completely failed to explain it, enabling its purpose to be misrepresented. Faced with this, instead of defending its own policy, the Government has chosen what it believes is the easy political option rather than the sound policy option.

“This is a retrograde step that will hurt NSW. It will put at risk thousands of current and potential jobs, particularly in regional mining communities where unemployment is often well above the state average.”

“Getting the balance right is important, but you can’t have viable communities and a clean environment without a strong economy.” NSW Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee said.

He added: “At the end of last year the Premier committed to halving project assessment time frames to improve investor confidence and support jobs. This proposal does the exact opposite, relegating the industry to uncertainty and putting thousands of jobs in jeopardy.”

“There are thousands of mining jobs hanging in the balance in NSW, caught up in the state planning system, including 1 800 workers and their families in the Hunter Valley.

Galilee called for the Planning Minister to ensure that any changes to the SEPP won’t be retrospective and impact on projects close to completing the assessment process.

According to various news sources, this policy change could affect mining giant Rio Tinto’s planned expansion of its Mount Thorley Warkworth coal mine in NSW.

“Regardless of these (proposed rule) changes, we believe there is a clear and compelling case to allow mining to continue at Mount Thorley Warkworth,” Rio Tinto Coal Australia managing director Chris Salisbury said in a statement.

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