In brief: The New South Wales Government has released its new Integrated Mining Policy for consultation. It clarifies the development application requirements for major mining projects and aims to streamline the assessment process. Partner Bill McCredie (view CV) and Senior Associates Naomi Bergman and Michael Zissis report.

HOW DOES IT AFFECT YOU?

  • Overall, the Integrated Mining Policy (IMP) is a positive step that will provide greater clarity around application and performance requirements for future State significant mining developments in New South Wales.
  • The exhibition of the IMP is being undertaken in two stages and is an important opportunity for the industry to be involved in the formulation of the minimum content requirements that will apply to future mining applications 

INTEGRATED MINING POLICY

The IMP is a new set of policies and documents to guide the assessment and determination of mining projects in NSW. The IMP will apply to all State significant mining developments, except petroleum, coal seam gas and exploration activities. Separate reforms for coal seam gas are being developed as part of the Government's Gas Plan.

The objectives of the IMP include the clarification of requirements for the mining assessment process, improvement of coordination and cooperation between government agencies, and reduced duplication between approvals processes. 

The documents comprising the IMP will be exhibited in two stages. While the elements of the IMP foreshadowed for the second stage of consultations include a standard set of development consent conditions for mining projects, new economic assessment guidelines and policies for voluntary land acquisitions and planning agreements, the following documents are now available for comment as part of the first stage of consultation.

Mine Application Guideline

  • Sets out specific development application requirements for State significant mining and extractive developments.
  • Requires a preferred mine design to address the full lifecycle of the mine and consider alternatives to avoid or minimise negative impacts.
  • Requires the inclusion of a consultation strategy in the Preliminary Environmental Assessment and appears to require consultation to be carried out earlier in the planning process.
  • Emphasises the requirement for appropriate separation distances between mining operations and existing land uses, and encourages early consideration of land acquisitions.
  • Specifically requires consideration of the capacity for a proposed mine to coexist with other potential future mine expansions and consideration of cumulative impacts.

Secretary's Standard Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs)

  • Incorporates and consolidates the assessment requirements for development consent applications, applications for environment protection licences and mining lease applications.
  • Requires assessment of whether proposed mitigation measures are consistent with industry best practice and represent the full range of reasonable and feasible mitigation measures that could be implemented.
  • Requires the provision of a constraints and opportunities analysis of final void options, including backfilling, to justify the proposed design is the most feasible and environmentally sustainable option to minimise the sterilisation of land post-mining.

Swamp Offset Policy

  • Requires the preparation of a Biodiversity Offsets Strategy (in accordance with the NSW Biodiversity Offsets Policy for Major Projects) outlining measures to offset any environmental impacts on upland swamps and associated threatened species caused by subsidence.
  • The Biodiversity Offsets Strategy must quantify the development's 'maximum predicted offset liability' based on a 'worst case scenario' for the development.
  • If, 12 months following completion, the 'worst case' impacts have not eventuated, the proponent will need to provide sufficient, peer reviewed, data to obtain either a reduction of its maximum predicted offset liability or a credit in respect of any offsets already provided.

IMPLICATIONS

Overall, the IMP is a positive step. The full package of policies and guidelines, once finalised, will provide greater certainty with respect to the minimum content requirements for mining applications and will remove duplication between existing assessment processes by introducing integrated SEARs that cover development consents, environment protection licences and mining leases.

In addition, the release of standard development consent conditions, which will occur during the second stage of consultation, will provide greater certainty in relation to environmental performance requirements for mining projects and, accordingly, greater certainty with respect to the time and costs likely to be involved in taking the action.

Of course, a number of key policy decisions will need to be made in finalising the new SEARs and standardised development consent conditions. The exhibition of the IMP is an important opportunity for the industry to be involved in the formulation of the SEARs and standard conditions, bearing in mind that once adopted, there is likely to be limited scope to justify departures from the requirements imposed under these documents.

NEXT STEPS

Submissions on the first stage of the IMP are due by 9 July 2015.

As noted, the Government has foreshadowed a second stage of consultation, where additional documents forming part of the IMP will be made available, including a standard set of development consent conditions for mining projects, new economic assessment guidelines and policies for voluntary land acquisitions and planning agreements.