Legislation to save coal mine

Steam rises from EnergyAustralia's Mount Piper power station, near Lithgow. Photo: Nick Moir
Steam rises from EnergyAustralia's Mount Piper power station, near Lithgow. Photo: Nick Moir

The NSW government will move to weaken laws protecting Sydney's water catchment to circumvent a court's ruling that threatened fuel supplies from Springvale mine to Mt Piper power station.

Opponents of the move called the plan "reckless" and an "offence to the rule of law".

The government today said it would introduce new laws aimed at side-stepping a decision by the Court of Appeal in August that found the licence for the extension of the Springvale coal mine near Lithgow was invalid because its operations harmed the quality of Sydney's drinking water.

The Court of Appeal sent the matter back to the Land and Environment Court for the parties to reach a resolution to allow the mine to continue operating. 

By deciding to introduce new laws to protect Springvale's operations - and those of EnergyAustralia's Mount Piper power station that receives all its coal from the mine - the government is aiming to pre-empt the result of the parties' discussions.

Energy Minister Don Harwin said in a statement the new laws would ensure the Springvale mine could continue to supply Mount Piper, which now generates about 11 per cent of the state's electricity. The laws would also include "significant protections for the environment".

"Springvale Mine is the sole current source of fuel for Mount Piper power station, and we are keen to avoid any disruption to its functions," Mr Harwin said.

"My top priority as energy minister is to ensure NSW households and business have an affordable, secure and reliable energy supply - this decision supports that."

Sue Higginson, chief executive of the NSW Environmental Defender's Office, said the government's action was "not rational".

"No government should pass special laws unless there is an absolute case to do so and even then only as an absolute last resort," Ms Higginson said.

"Special laws to validate unlawful acts by the executive is an offence to the rule of law.

"The proper thing to do in this situation, as inconvenient as it may be for Centennial Coal [owner of the Springvale Mine] and all involved is to wait until all of the expert evidence has been presented and the [Land and Environment] Court has made its finding based on all of the evidence," she said.