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One of NSW’s major thermal coal miners has admitted it submitted inaccurate figures on the carbon emissions impact of its fuel in an environmental declaration to the state government.

Centennial Coal stated in its submission for an extension of its Angus Place coal mine near Lithgow that burning its coal would produce 80 kilograms of carbon dioxide per tonne. Similar mines – including two of its own – actually cause 30 times more emissions, or 2.4 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of coal.

The company has provided a wide range of its estimated emissions for burning its coal - and all have been approved by the NSW government.
The company has provided a wide range of its estimated emissions for burning its coal – and all have been approved by the NSW government. CREDIT:CENTENNIAL COAL

“Absolutely, we stuffed up,” Katie Brassil, the company’s spokeswoman said. “Our consultants got it wrong and so we got it wrong.”

The assessment of emissions resulting from burning fossil fuels has become a sensitive one in NSW after approvals for two projects were rejected because of the impact of so-called Scope 3 or downstream emissions resulting from burning the product.In February 2019, the NSW Land and Environment Court threw out the proposed Rocky Hill mine near Gloucester in part because of the fuel’s final-use emissions even though the miner planned to export the coal. Last September the Independent Planning Commission rejected the Bylong Coal project for similar reasons.

Centennial’s error was identified by the Nature Conservation Council, which described the low-ball Scope 3 emissions as “a shambles”.

For instance, the company estimated coal from its Myuna and Mandalong Southern mines – approved in 2012 and 2013 respectively – would create 2.4 tonnes of C02 per tonne of coal. But for a 2010-approved mine, Centennial said CO2 emissions would be 810kg per tonne of coal, while three other mines were rated at about 230kg.

“The company’s response demonstrates it has no idea what scope 3 emissions are, which for one of the state’s biggest coal miners is astounding,” Chris Gambian, the council’s chief executive said.

 “This is why the government should change the rules around environmental assessment so the government appoints independent, competent consultants to do this critical work,” he said.

“The company either doesn’t know or doesn’t care, and either way it means strong regulators are needed to protect the public interest,” Mr Gambian said.A spokeswoman for the Department of Planning said it was “currently investigating claims that false or misleading information may have been submitted during assessment processes”.

Centennial Coal has told the department “it will provide additional information to clarify the matter”, she said.Planning, however, did not address questions about whether it would re-examine Centennial’s other projects given the various estimates put forward by the company, or check if other miners had underestimated their emissions.

Ms Brassil said Centennial would “rectify” its errors but said the company’s other mines “have already got consent and were operating” and would not need to have their emissions reviewed.Georgia Woods, a spokeswoman for environmental organisation Lock the Gate, said it was an offence to submit inaccurate information in environmental assessments, and the company should be held to account.

The revelation of erroneous data only came about because of the vigilance of civil society, she said.”Certainly it’s an indictment on Planning,” Ms Woods said. “You’d think they would have some quality control.”