BlackRock accused of ‘hypocrisy’ over investment in NSW coal mine

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The world's largest asset manager BlackRock has been accused of hypocrisy over its investments in the conglomerate China Shenhua, which is set to build a NSW coal mine that could threaten water quality and destroy ancient Aboriginal artefacts.

BlackRock made global headlines in January when it announced plans to divest from thermal coal. However, its coal exclusion only applies to actively managed funds so the New York-based asset manager is able to retain a passively held stake in companies such as China Shenhua, which is the world's largest thermal coal miner.

NSW Gunnedah farmer Susan Lyle, who has opposed the China Shenhua mine for more than 12 years, has sent a letter to the US fund titan's Sydney headquarters outlining her concerns.

Farmer Susan Lyle (left) has fiercely opposed the mine for 12 years but has now set her sights on Blackrock. Credit:Dean Sewell

"I write this letter as I believe there is a hypocrisy in that BlackRock has been vocal on climate change and the exit of fossil fuels … yet retaining its shareholding in a foreign state-owned company with its proposed development of a destructive new coal mine, Shenhua Watermark," Ms Lyle wrote in the letter, obtained by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

"The proposed mine site sits at the centre of the most productive agricultural land in Australia, with significant ground and surface water which feeds the rich, black, vertisol soil and town water supplies."

Ms Lyle said the community had spent an "enormous amount of time, money and energy" researching the impacts of the mine, including funding research by Emeritus Professor Ian Acworth which found it would damage underground water resources.

"Institutions such as BlackRock must not just 'talk the talk' to exit fossil fuels, they must put pressure on this company and 'walk the walk' for the environment and a community who will be grossly impacted," she wrote.

BlackRock has held two meetings with China Shenhua over the first six months of this year. Its records show these engagements dealt with issues including environment impact management, business oversight, risk management, governance and climate change.

BlackRock is China Shenhua's second largest investor behind China Energy, a state-owned energy giant, according to recent annual reports. Its 1.36 per cent stake is passively held in index funds, but BlackRock maintains active engagement with its directors over environmental, social and governance issues. It would not comment on the outcome of the meetings, but these meetings are only recorded if the group feels "meaningful dialogue" was achieved.

Indigenous group the Gomeroi people filed a lawsuit against federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley to protect the site, but this was thrown out in July. The 600-plus traditional owners have now lodged another appeal to the federal government with fresh information about the cultural heritage of the site in a last-ditch effort to stop the mine.

A spokesman for Minister Ley's office said any new evidence would be considered and an independent reporter would be assigned to consult with all parties.

China Shenhua has yet to be granted a mining licence but has conditional approval from the NSW government.

Greens state MP Cate Faehrmann has been agitating for the mine to be blocked through NSW Parliament, but so far progress has stalled.

Ms Faehrmann said it was more important than ever for the private sector to escalate its efforts with the mining giant. "BlackRock needs to make sure these ancient grinding grooves aren’t destroyed by Shenhua," she said. "I couldn't put it more clearly than that."

China Shenhua was contacted for comment.

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