Lock the Gate Alliance says Whitehaven Coal’s repeated failure to comply with NSW law should be taken into account by the Independent Planning Commission in its consideration of the company’s proposed Vickery coal mine following the company’s conviction in the Land and Environment Court on Monday.
The NSW Land and Environment Court convicted and fined Whitehaven Coal Mining Limited $38,500 after it pleaded guilty to breaching its environment protection licence for a blast at its Rocglen Mine near Gunnedah in August 2016.
Specifically, the Court heard that during routine blasting operations at the Rocglen open-cut coal mine, a post-blast fume cloud made up of potentially harmful oxides of nitrogen gas, left the mine site and passed over neighbouring farmland. Fortunately, no people or livestock were harmed as a result of the fumes.
Lock the Gate spokesperson Georgina Woods thanked the EPA for prosecuting the company but expressed disappointment at the size of the fine given the breach is the latest in a series of breaches, investigations and penalties at the companies coal mines.
“Whitehaven would spend more than this fine on a company lunch,” she said.
“We are concerned that this court imposed penalty is not sufficient to deter mining companies who are weighing up the cost of meeting environmental obligations against the risk of being caught disobeying them.
“This is part of a pattern of behaviour by Whitehaven. The company has been fined on numerous occasions at four coal mines. It has received cautions and been the subject of countless community complaints, including other blast incidents.
“Whitehaven is seeking approval for a large new Vickery open cut coal mine and the Independent Planning Commission last month heard damning evidence from farming communities neighbouring the company’s mines about its poor environmental and social record.
“There needs to be accountability and more serious consequences for these breaches if communities and the environment are to be protected. The commission is now assessing the Vickery proposal and must take Whitehaven’s dismal track record into account.”