Warkworth judgement shows up flaws in coal mine approvals system

Published: April 15, 2013

The Lock the Gate Alliance has welcomed this morning's judgement in the NSW Land & Environment Court, which overturns the approval of Rio Tinto's (Coal & Allied's) proposed Warkworth open cut coal mine expansion near Bulga, in the Hunter Valley.

The Warkworth Extension was approved by the NSW O'Farrell Government in February 2012, against the wishes of the adjacent community of Bulga. While NSW law usually prohibits merits-based legal challenges to coal mine approvals, a brief change in the law allowed The Bulga-Milbrodale Progress Association to challenge the approval of the mine in the Court.

“This is a huge win for the community of Bulga, which would have been all but wiped off the map by this coal mine,” said Steve Phillips, Hunter regional coordinator for Lock the Gate. “This mine would have had major impacts on air quality and people's health. It would have destroyed an extremely rare and endangered ecosystem, home to 17 threatened native animal species.

“But it was approved by the NSW Government, regardless. This judgement underscores just how flawed the approvals process for coal mines is in NSW. In most instances, the local community is not allowed to challenge a coal mine approval in the Court. This time, they were, and the Court found that the mine should never have been approved.

“How many other coal mines in NSW have been given the green light when the shouldn't have? How many communities are being forced to breathe in polluted air, when coal mines are forced on them by a planning system that puts coal company profits ahead of people's health, and the environment?”

“The assessment system for coal mines in NSW is fundamentally flawed, and needs to be overhauled”, continued Phillips. “We need a system that is actually capable of saying 'no'.”

The local group's Court challenge focussed on both the health and biodiversity impacts of the proposed coal mine.

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