Concerns as Snowy 2.0 gets green light

Snowy 2.0 approval generates environmental concerns

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Environment Minister Sussan Ley gave final approval for Australia's largest renewable energy project on Tuesday. Picture: Karleen Minney.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley gave final approval for Australia's largest renewable energy project on Tuesday. Picture: Karleen Minney.

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Concerns have been raised about Snowy 2.0, after Environment Minister Sussan Ley gave the final green light to the project despite damning audit of Australia's environmental laws.

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Concerns have been raised about Snowy 2.0, after Environment Minister Sussan Ley gave the final green light to the project despite damning audit of Australia's environmental laws.

The environment minister revealed the Commonwealth had given final approval for Australia's largest ever renewable energy project on Tuesday.

Ms Ley said after the 21-month approval process, "the threatened species, the communities, [and] the precious amenities of Kosciuszko National Park will be protected, remediated and even enhanced" through the $5 billion project.

However the project was marred after the chair of the NSW threatened fishes committee, Mark Lintermans quit approximately one month ago after the NSW government signed off on the project.

The University of Canberra associate professor said he could not serve a government that "willfully ignored" the destructive impact of the project on threatened fish species.

He believed the project would put the critically endangered stocky galaxias at risk by exposing them to invasive pests.

The species only occurs in an 800 metre stretch of Tantangera Creek, protected by a waterfall. It used to be more widespread in the catchment but was pushed to the brink by the introduction of trout to the dam.

But Ms Ley said Associate Professor Lintermans' issue was with the NSW approvals process, not the federal approvals. She said her department had been in touch with him to hear his concerns.

"Snowy will be providing $25 million to effectively net the tunnels that lead from Tantangara reservoir in the incredibly unlikely event that pest fish could manage to come up the tunnel in to Tantangara and damage the natural environment for the stocky galaxias, we have got it covered,"

"We've also got a $5 million captive breeding program for the particular native fish that the professor is concerned about and that will be happening in a separately built weir."

However the announcement came just days after a scathing audit of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act found almost eight in 10 decisions made by the federal environmental department were riddled with errors or failed to protect vulnerable ecosystems as promised.

The interim findings of a once-in-a-decade review of the laws are due to the handed to the minister by Tuesday.

In the wake of last summer's fires and the extinction crisis they triggered, how can we possibly have an environment minister who approves a development that renders a species extinct? - National Parks Association of NSW executive officer Gary Dunnett

The National Parks Association of NSW questioned the Commonwealth's ability to assess the environmental impact statement for the project given the Auditor-General's findings.

Executive officer Gary Dunnett said the approval opened the way not only for "unprecedented damage to the national park but also the likely extinction of an entire species".

Mr Dunnett said Snowy Hydro's own environmental impact statement said the netting program would be unlikely to prove successful in the long term, which is why it proposed the captive breeding program.

"Let's be really clear - captive breeding is not equivalent to preserving a species in situ. It's entirely unproven and at best simply delays the inevitable," Mr Dunnett said.

"In the wake of last summer's fires and the extinction crisis they triggered, how can we possibly have an environment minister who approves a development that renders a species extinct?"

The approvals process for Snowy 2.0 is supposed to be a blueprint for how applications for major projects will work in future.

A joint Commonwealth and NSW approvals team was set up to examine the project in February in order to "streamline the assessment", Ms Ley said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has already signalled he wants environmental approval times to be slashed after the Samuel review, with a a new "single touch approval" process for major projects.

Meanwhile the Liberals candidate for Eden-Monaro Fiona Kotvojs was also grilled on her views on climate change, after a submission she wrote to the bushfires royal commission in April calling for more hazard reduction surfaced.

"For us, there is only one issue, fuel load. Unless this is addressed, everything else is meaningless," her joint submission with her husband Alan Burdon reads.

Asked whether she believed climate change was a factor in the summer bushfires, she said "I can't speak about other places".

"I can speak about our area because that's where i was fighting the fires with the RFS, that's where i was defending our home and our property, that's where the fires actually rolled through our farm and I actually know what happened," Dr Kotvojs said.

"At our place, our farm, my community, the key thing that caused a difference in different places I could see was hazard reduction. And as I said I'm really pleased the royal commission is looking at all of the factors across the whole area that caused the bushfires and contributed to them and I look forward to those recommendations being implemented."

However Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action president Jo Dodds said her comments were "unacceptable".

"Expert advice from scientists and former fire chiefs alike shows that climate change is driving the hot and dry conditions that fuelled the unprecedented fires that devastated our region this past summer," Ms Dodds said.

"Scientists have clearly explained that hotter, drier conditions are escalating bushfire risks. Climate change is making bushfire seasons longer, increasing fire risk by drying out soil and vegetation, and reducing the window for effective hazard reduction burns to be carried out.

"It is a massive policy failure to wilfully ignore such a key driver of the bushfire crisis. If you are not calling for strong climate policy and urgent emission reductions to address worsening bushfire danger, you are putting Eden-Monaro residents in even greater harm's way."

The story Concerns as Snowy 2.0 gets green light first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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