Govt, miner ‘fast-track coal project’
THE State Government and mining giant Rio Tinto are working together to rush through approval for a controversial coalmine already ruled against by the land court, environmentalists say.
The Lock The Gate alliance and the Bulga Milbrodale Process Association (BMPA) have written to New South Wales Planning minister, Brad Hazzard, asking him to suspend the approval process for the expansion of the Warkworth coalmine in the Hunter Valley.
The groups have been fighting the expansion of the mine since fully-owned Rio Tinto subsidiary Coal & Allied applied to the government for approval in March 2010.
It was approved in February last year and subsequently challenged in the Land & Environment Court by BMPA.
The Land & Environment Court overturned approval for the mine, which was expected to produce about 18 million tonnes of coal annually, in April.
“The reasons for the judgment included unacceptable impacts on residents, impacts on endangered ecological communities, and the fact the Rio Tinto had previously signed an agreement not to mine the area in question,” the groups say in a joint statement.
This decision was appealed by Rio Tinto and the Planning Department and is before the NSW Court of Appeal.
But on November 12, Rio Tinto applied for a smaller extension of the same mine, under which open-cut mining would be conducted in the same area where the Land & Environment Court ruled it should not take place.
“They sprang this without warning, which is fairly unprecedented,” Lock the Gate’s Steve Phillips told Sydney media last night (Thursday).
The project was put on public exhibition for two weeks, half the usual period, and Rio Tinto responded to about 1000 submissions the next business day after public consultation closed, he says.
“That’s a process that usually takes at least a couple of months,” says Mr Phillips.
“We think that they just haven’t even read the submissions.”
On the business day following Rio Tinto’s response, the Planning Department published a report recommending the project be approved.
“Again, that’s a process that usually takes months – it was done literally in one day,” says Mr Phillips.
At the same time, the public was being kept in the dark, he says.
“(They) are working together to make sure it proceeds through the approval process as fast as possible, making a complete mockery of due process,” Mr Phillips says. [more]