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NSW water quality under threat from loosened water pollution laws

The NSW Government’s recent amendments on water pollution laws could have vast implications for Sydney’s drinking water catchments, with mines being waived of their responsibility to ensure their impact is ‘neutral or beneficial’ to surrounding environments.

Earlier this month, the NSW Government moved to amend legislation in order to nullify a court decision against the extension of the Springvale coal mine.

The amended legislation validates the approval of Springvale’s development consent, but it also changes the water quality test that is applied to extensions of existing developments; the change requires that extensions don’t pollute the drinking water any more than the original development did prior to the extension.

4Nature President Andrew Cox told the Guardian that the legislative amendments will lock in weaker pollution regulations, the likes of which have not been followed for decades.

“It provides an infinite pollution holiday. Existing pollution levels will be grandfathered,” Cox said.

NSW Labor spokesman for industry, resources and energy Adam Searle said Labor would oppose that part of the bill and would move an amendment to it.

“It’s not desirable and we oppose it because we think there should be a higher standard of protection,” Searle said.

While Labor will support the extension of the Springvale mine, the amendment allowing for continued water pollution was described by Searle as “unnecessary and potentially dangerous”.

The Greens energy spokesman Jeremy Buckingham said the legislation will penalise cleaner development in favour of extensions to older developments.

“A perverse outcome of the legislation is that it will penalise new environmentally sensitive development over older, more polluting developments. New developments will be held to a much higher standard than the extension of existing developments,” Buckingham said.

And while the legislation amendments were rushed in an attempt to stabilise the energy market in light of the recent Court of Appeal decision to bar the Springvale mine extension, Buckingham said the energy supply problem was being used as a ruse to weaken environmental protections.

“The Berejiklian Government is using the confected crisis of Mt Piper’s coal supply to sneak through laws that gut protections for the quality of Sydney’s drinking water supply,” he said.

“The legislation goes far beyond the Springvale coal mine and allows any extensions to existing developments in the whole Sydney drinking water catchment to avoid the ‘neutral or beneficial’ test designed to improve the quality of Sydney’s drinking water.

“It freezes in time poor levels of water pollution control at the expense of Sydney’s drinking water quality.”