By Tina Perinotto and Andrew Starc

27 October 2010 – The Greens today said they would support the NSW Farmers Association’s call for a moratorium on all new coal, mineral and gas projects until a strategic plan is developed to protect food security and agricultural land.

The call comes as Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Greg Combet, today announced a new panel that will devise a way to create and sell carbon credits for farmers and landowners under the Carbon Farming Initiative.

NSW Farmers Association Mining Taskforce chair Fiona Simson said that a transparent approval process for new mining projects should be part of an independent strategic plan to protect water and farmland.

“The coal seam gas industry in NSW is expanding rapidly,” Ms Simpson said.

“Mineral and petroleum titles and applications now cover around 70 per cent of the state.

“These industries are being allowed to flourish without proper concern for the threat they pose to farmland and water resources.

“A strategic plan should consider a transparent approval process, independent monitoring of mining and gas industries, and aquifer protection,” said Ms Samson.

Australian Greens deputy leader Senator Christine Milne today said that further coal and gas mining would jeopardise farming land and water supplies, and called for a national food security strategy to meet the challenges of urban development and climate change.

“To let coal and gas directly encroach on farming land and contaminate vital water supplies is simply turning a blind eye to reality,” she said.

“We need a comprehensive food security strategy for Australia in the face of the climate crisis, peak oil and the destruction of farming land by urban sprawl, mining and more.”

Mining industry recognition of its threat to water supplies was affirmed today with BHP Billiton announcing that it has scrapped plans to mine under the Dharawal State Conservation Area in the northern Illawarra, according to the Total Environment Centre.

TEC’s executive director Jeff Angel said that he hopes the move by BHP to cease longwall mining in the area will send a message about its serious environmental impacts, which include cracks in rivers and the draining of wetlands.

“BHP Billiton and its consultants were clearly indulging in greenwash when they originally said there would not be serious impacts, but at last they have listened to the valid concerns from environmentalists and the community,” Mr Angel said.

“We hope this signals an ongoing sensitivity to the long term environment impact of the mining industry in Australia.”

Minister Greg Combet also today announced that farmers, foresters and landholders will soon have a framework to generate carbon credits.

“The National Carbon Offsets Standard, introduced 1 July 2010, has established the rules for companies to become carbon neutral or to sell carbon neutral products. The Carbon Farming Initiative will set out what farmers, foresters and landholders need to do to generate carbon credits and it will establish an independent regulator to verify carbon credit claims.”

Reforestation, capturing emissions from existing landfill (“legacy waste”), and better management of livestock manure are some of the ways to generate carbon credits, Mr Combet said.

“Once the credits are verified, they can be traded on Australia’s voluntary carbon market and on overseas markets, generating revenue while reducing carbon pollution.

“Offset credits can be purchased by individuals and corporations to compensate for their own carbon pollution. Buyers of offset credits will include businesses that choose to go carbon neutral, and companies that sell carbon neutral products.

A new panel announced by Mr Combet will aim to have a framework for the credits ready by the target introduction date for the CFI legislation of the first half of 2011.

Committee members are:

Mr Duncan McGregor (Chair) –  Partner and specialist climate change, environment and development lawyer at Minter Ellison in Sydney. Considered an expert in the field of climate change law, he provides ongoing legal advice to corporations on climate change and carbon issues.

Mr Rob Fowler: A well-known offsets and former administrator of the NSW Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme, he has an understanding of the practicalities of implementing a major offsets program. He has also been a methodology expert within the UNFCCC since 2004.

Dr J. Mark Dangerfield: Ecologist, environmental scientist, author and member of the NSW Natural Resource Advisory Council. He is one of three global experts accredited to assess agriculture and land management projects generating carbon credits under the Voluntary Carbon Standard.

Professor Annette Cowie: Well-known scientist who has published widely in academic and trade journals on biochar, soil emissions, forest carbon sequestration, and carbon in wood products. She also has practical experience with offsets programs, including the forest offset component of GGAS.

Dr Brian Keating: (CSIRO nominee) Director of the CSIRO Sustainable Agriculture Flagship. Dr Keating is an expert in the areas of agronomy, crop physiology, farming systems, science management and simulation modelling. He also holds several professional positions, including the role of Director of the International Consortium for Agricultural Systems Application.

Ms Shayleen Thompson: (Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency representative) Head of the Land Division in the DCCEE, she has worked on international and domestic climate change policy and programs since 1995.