Deputy Premier John Barilaro has met industry, union and business representatives in Wollongong in a ramping up of efforts to overturn a controversial scuttling of the Dendrobium Mine expansion.
The Independent Planning Commission (IPC) knocked back the South32 proposal on February 5, due to concerns about the effects on the water catchment.
South32, which employs up to 400 people at Dendrobium, wanted to extend the mine's life to 2048 and extract an additional 78 million tonnes of coal from two new areas near Avon and Cordeaux dams.
The mining minister, and NSW Nationals leader, held a roundtable at BlueScope Steel on Monday to discuss the impacts of the decision which he said had "significant ramifications right across the Illawarra, if not the state and the nation".
"I'm taking every opportunity to make sure we find a way forward," he told media. "The idea we can transition away from the coal industry, mining industry, steel industry, overnight is ridiculous.
"In time, the decades ahead, of course there's going to be transition but right now we have the opportunity to shore up decades worth of coal supply and secure those skilled jobs in the region."
Mr Barilaro said the decision could see the loss of "750 coal jobs, 3000 steel jobs" and represent a $2 billion hit to the Illawarra economy.
"I know there's always concern in the community about mining, co-existence and the impacts on the environment," he said.
"At no point does anyone, any of the stakeholders, anybody in government, want to see a detrimental outcome either to Sydney's water catchment (or) the environment. But ... we've got to balance the advantages and the opportunities for the economy.
"And we know that we can, we know we can co-exist, we can put mitigation in place to protect water, to protect the catchment, but at the same time mining areas that we've seen mining for more than 100 years."
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment had recommended approval of the extension, saying the benefits outweighed the risks to the catchment. However the plan was opposed by WaterNSW.
"There's no hiding the NSW planning agency gave this particular project the green light," Mr Barilaro said. "Yes there were concerns, by WaterNSW. In my mind there was a failure in that there was an opportunity to work through those issues within the process we have, and within the IPC."
Mr Barilaro said he would be raising the issue in state cabinet, and seeking legal advice in order to "chart a pathway" forward.
Representatives from Bluescope, South32, the CFMEU and AWU, Illawarra Business Chamber and state Labor MPs Ryan Park and Paul Scully were among those involved in the roundtable discussion.
However Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Nic Clyde said Mr Barilaro's undermining of the IPC's independence and scientific integrity was unacceptable.
"It's telling that Mr Barilaro appears to have only met with stakeholders today who want to build the destructive coal mine extension, not the agency responsible for managing and safeguarding the region's drinking water or the scientists who gave frank and fearless advice to the IPC," Mr Clyde said.
"Just like when he wanted to ride roughshod over koalas, Mr Barilaro is raging against scientific expertise, and is pushing an opinion that is out of touch with the community's expectations.
"...The protection of the drinking water relied on by more than five million people must not be put at risk simply because a politician wants to shoot from the hip and keep mining companies happy."
Protect Our Water Alliance spokeswoman Deidre Stuart said that Illawarra and Sydney residents should be concerned that the Deputy Premier was seeking to overturn the decision.
"POWA considers that the IPC refusal of the Dendrobium coal extension was based on a full consideration of evidence showing very significant and likely permanent damage to water supplies and the water catchment's metropolitan special area," she said.
"We consider that the IPC decision was consistent with ecological sustainable development considerations and truly in the public interest.
"... Let the NSW cabinet remember that water is and always will be more important than coal. We think most NSW residents, perhaps rural and regional residents especially, understand that all too well."
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