Lock the Gate Alliance and members of the north west NSW community are flabbergasted coal mine operators will only receive a caution after an investigation revealed every single open cut project in the region was burying giant machinery tyres illegally.
Concerns were first raised after Whitehaven applied to bury about 870 tyres at its Tarrawonga coal mine site in April this year. It was later revealed the mining company had already been burying the tyres without consent at Tarrawonga, as well as at its Maules Creek project.
A probe was launched, and in an email sent this week to Maules Creek local Libby Laird, the NSW Environment Protection Authority stated it had concluded the investigation and:
“The investigation identified that all open-cut coal mines in this region had buried waste tyres that had been generated at each respective premises, without the necessary licence conditions, at various times between 2014-2020. The EPA has issued Official Cautions to all the open cut coal mines investigated.”
That means six coal mines - the majority owned by Whitehaven and one owned by Idemitsu, have been burying potentially hundreds of giant machinery tyres over a six year period without an environmental licence.
Ms Laird said it was astonishing the EPA would not take firmer action against the companies.
“We’re used to Whitehaven getting away with just a slap on the wrist, but this is ridiculous,” she said.
“These tyres are buried deep underground and could have a disastrous impact on our groundwater and local environment.
“The EPA’s own guidelines say cautions can be issued to companies if the offence is “minor”. I would argue that the burial of hundreds of giant machinery tyres without permission is not a minor offence.
“Whitehaven and Idemitsu are supposed to rehabilitate the land once they finish mining - it is difficult to see how this is possible if the tyres are left in situ.”
Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said it was the latest in a long and sorry list of crimes committed by Whitehaven.
“It is well past the time for the NSW Berejiklian Government to strip Whitehaven of its right to operate in this state,” she said.
“Only last week Whitehaven was fined in the Land and Environment Court for offences committed at its Narrabri Underground Mine, and this week is in court again to be sentenced for stealing a billion litres of water at Maules Creek - a crime to which the company has already pleaded guilty,” she said.
“These offences come on top of at least 35 other offences the company has been fined or cautioned over since 2012. Whitehaven is a repeat offender and the penalties it has received so far have clearly not prompted a change in its attitude.
“While we commend the EPA for conducting this investigation, we are sick of seeing Whitehaven get away with so many flagrant violations of environmental law.
“The people, the land, and the water of the north west deserve better than this.”