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FOI documents reveal not even Whitehaven knew how many crimes it had committed

New freedom of information documents reveal Whitehaven needed to be reminded of some of the dozens of penalties it received for environmental breaches committed at its NSW coal mines as part of its federal application to expand its Narrabri Underground coal project.


The release of the documents comes as Whitehaven prepares to hold its annual general meeting on October 26.

The list of more than 100 breaches covers 24 pages, including those committed by Whitehaven subsidiaries. The correspondence shows Whitehaven has committed 34 breaches at the existing Narrabri coal mine, including failing to rehabilitate disturbed areas, illegally clearing access tracks, illegally drilling boreholes, disturbing an Aboriginal heritage site and exceeding noise limits. 

The correspondence shows the Federal Department had to rely on information provided by NSW authorities for 74 breaches committed by Whitehaven, either because Whitehaven did not supply the information, or it was not clearly supplied to the department.

Opponents of the Narrabri coal mine expansion, which is due for decision by the Environment Minister soon, say the inclusion of Whitehaven’s criminal rap sheet in its assessment correspondence, indicates the company should not be granted further approvals, since it was repeatedly failing to meet environmental conditions. 

Lock the Gate Alliance Head of Research and Investigations Georgina Woods said this highlighted the importance of the Albanese Government’s reforms to the EPBC Act.

“The list of Whitehaven’s environmental crimes is not just long, it's serious - the company has damaged Aboriginal artefacts, cleared bush without approval, polluted creeks, stolen water, failed to manage noise and air pollution, and dumped dangerous waste materials. It looks like there’s not a single environmental harm Whitehaven hasn’t committed,” she said.

“We’re very worried that the law isn’t strong enough to protect the forest and the water resources at risk from this huge mine expansion.

“Frankly, the EPBC Act, as it stands, is unable to protect the environment except in exceptional circumstances - at least the way Australian environment ministers have used it.”

The documents also show how the department, in consultation with Whitehaven Coal, was preparing a “proposed decision” (Page 1) in the leadup to the “Living Wonders” Federal Court challenge against Narrabri Underground and Mt Pleasant. This is despite Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek saying no decision had been made regarding Narrabri Underground, after the Federal Court challenge was unsuccessful earlier this month.

As well, the Freedom of Information Documents show Whitehaven has confirmed with the department of environment that more than 450 hectares of koala habitat will be cleared, should the mine be built (Page 84).

Boggabri farmer Sally Hunter said Whitehaven and other coal companies’ assault on the Namoi Valley had been relentless.

“Boggabri will soon be surrounded on three sides by huge coal mines,” she said.

“Whitehaven’s relentless breaking of laws, and governments’ continuous enabling of this behaviour is a threat to us. These rules are supposed to create a safe environment for us, supposed to protect our community and our natural resources, but they are being thrown in our face by companies who think they are bigger than the law.”


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