The NSW government says it has refined its coal seam gas regulations policy in response to the concerns of communities and farmers. The new and improved policy announced this week, however, has not appeased the opponents of coal seam gas activities in rural and regional areas.
The farmers are still fighting and the environmental groups are not retreating either.
If it was the objective of the amended policy to dilute the level of opposition, it appears it has not worked.
But the underlining element behind the changes announced on Monday by the premier is to prevent the federal environment minister stepping in and imposing regulations under Commonwealth environmental laws.
It also appears that strategy will also fail.
Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner has said repeatedly the NSW government has introduced the strongest set of coal seam gas regulations in the country through its Strategic Regional Land Use Policy. But farmers and others argue the policy is not the one they were promised when the Coalition was vying for office leading up to the 2011 election.
So in effect, the toughest regulations in the land have already been watered down.
There is, however, one solution to satisfy the legitimate concerns of the opponents of coal seam gas and coalmining in rural areas. These are not misguided concerns. Protecting productive agricultural land and water resources should be everyone’s priority.
Tony Windsor’s proposal for an independent scientific committee to assess the impact of coalmining and coal seam gas activities in all areas is not only the safest option, it is also the fairest.
There will be winners and losers, but the science will ensure prime land and water resources will be protected.
To that end, federal Environment Minister Tony Burke must act. By imposing, under federal environmental laws, protection measures which include the use of an independent scientific assessment committee to determine risks and outcomes, he will establish a robust system which provides the safeguards farmers and others are asking for.
It’s that simple!