Plans to double annual coal production at the Mount Pleasant mine near Muswellbrook have been questioned, not only by the Muswellbrook Council, but also the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA).
MACH Energy, operators of the open cut mine, located three kilometres north west of Muswellbrook have plans before the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment which if approved could see annual production increase from 10 million tonnes to 21Mtpa.
Under the proposal the life of the mine would be extended by 22 years until 2048 and the workforce would nearly double to 600.
In submissions received on the project's Environment Impact Study the EPA was critical of the air impact assessment.
The EPA has undertaken a review of the report titled "Mount Pleasant Optimisation Project, Air Quality Impact Assessment", prepared by Todoroski Air Sciences dated 16 December 2020 (the AQIA).
"The proposal constitutes a significant increase in operation from 10.5 Mtpa to 21 Mtpa of ROM coal extraction, and the location of the site is in close proximity to Muswellbrook," the EPA response states.
"In its current form, the AQIA is not adequate for decision making purposes, as the methodology and approach is not transparent enough to evaluate the robustness of the predicted impacts.
The EPA states it was "unable to provide recommended conditions of approval for the Project".
Commenting on the impacts of the project on water the EPA states the proposed works under the Optimisation Project will increase the water volume and pollutant load.
The assessment of the water quality impacts and potential overflows from other storages ... does not use adequate data for pollutants such as metals, and the consideration of impacts on receiving waterways is not consistent with ANZG (2018). It is recommended that the proposal is revisited to ensure the water quality risks are appropriately assessed and managed according to the EPA.
Muswellbrook Council also raised concerns about air quality impacts and the over reliance of its economy on coal mining which in turn lead to issues with what industries would provide future employment once mining ceased.
The doubling of the workforce the Council suggested would result in more housing stress and therefore severe rental shortages.
They say MACH Energy should consider providing accommodation for their larger workforce.
One of the submissions received on the EIS was written by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy. The Turnbull's in their submission objecting to the project say for nearly 40 years they have owned the property 'East Rossgole' a 2700 acres grazing property located directly north of the Mount Pleasant mine.
"The existing mine, and others in the areas, have already done considerable damage to the local environment with worsening air quality, depleting underground water and rendering much of the beautiful Upper Hunter a blasted lunar landscape," their submission says.
"The postcode 2333 has the worst air quality in the state. The expansion and extension of this mine, the subject of this objection, will make the air quality much worse and spread it further north to Aberdeen and further towards Scone.
"For example on 1 March 2021, air quality with no drought, recent rain and no bushfires, in north west Muswellbrook close to Mount Pleasant, has a PM10 of 113, more than double the NEPM standard of 50 and WHO standard of 20.
"On Monday 8 March, the PM10 figure for Muswellbrook NW monitor (closest to Mount Pleasant's existing operations) reached a staggering 224.6. We believe the further expansion of Mount Pleasant would pose a serious risk to public health - particularly for the more than 10,000 residents of the Muswellbrook community.
"The application to expand this mine should be refused. Its extension should not be considered in the absence of comprehensive cumulative air quality and water assessments..."