STRICTER environmental assessments are set to be imposed on the coal seam gas industry in NSW by the federal government following demands made by independent MP Tony Windsor.
A determined Mr Windsor said yesterday he would use his critical vote in the House of Representatives to get the federal government to act because the NSW government had shown it is not serious about the issue.
Mr Windsor’s tough stance will result in legislation which will use the issue of water quality as the trigger for much tighter environmental assessments on projects.
Mr Windsor, who is one of a small group of independents who hold the balance of power in the federal lower house, has asked for the Gillard government to intervene at the state assessment level when water quality is threatened. He wants federal legislation to use water quality as a “trigger” under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
The legislation would give the federal government greater approval powers over the states and Mr Windsor says he is determined to set it in motion the legislative process before the September 14 election.
“It’s D-Day. NSW has shown they are not serious,” he said.
“They are not trying to fix the real problem, which is the potential for cumulative impact on water from numerous mines.”
He said he wasn’t bluffing and was not prepared to let it slide.
“There can be no more delays,” Mr Windsor said.
He has already played a big role in adding federal power to coal seam gas (CSG) exploration regulation, sitting on the House of Representatives’ CSG and coalmining panel.
The introduction of the National Partnership Agreement for the Regulation of CSG, announced in late 2011, had clinched his support for the government’s Mineral Resources Rent Tax.
Under the partnership, agreed upon by the states, a federal Expert Scientific Committee on CSG and large coal mining developments would carry out research on the water-related impacts of mining activities.
It has been working since December and is already believed to have carried out research on the Maules Creek coalmine proposal near Boggabri.
Bellata farmer and anti-CSG campaigner Penny Blatchford said she was happy to hear the issue receiving more federal attention.
She said those supporting greater care of the land and water resources needed more politicians backing them when so many others weren’t getting involved in the debate.
Mr Windsor’s comments have caught the attention of the federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, who is also frustrated with the NSW government.
Mr Burke said he was exploring all options to force the state to support federal protocols.
He has questioned why NSW, unlike Queensland, Victoria and South Australia, failed to use the best qualified science and processes when people were concerned the industry could cause harm to their land.
Mrs Blatchford said the soil subsidence issue was a prime example of the problems they faced at Bellata and Gurley, near Moree, where CSG would carry risks to their volatile vertisol soils.
“While water is the big issue I’m pleased soil subsidence has been brought up,” she said.
Nature Conservation Council of NSW CEO Pepe Clarke backed the calls, saying greater federal involvement was essential.
“Local communities across the country are bearing witness to the failure of state governments to control runaway mining and gas expansion,” Mr Clarke said.