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Meagre fines will do nothing to change behaviour of criminal coal company Whitehaven

The $158,000 fine handed to Whitehaven Coal for polluting a creek with styrofoam balls used in explosives at its Maules Creek mine will do nothing to change the recalcitrant company’s behaviour.

Whitehaven pleaded guilty to three offences last year related to the pollution event, during which thousands of tiny styrofoam balls flowed down Back Creek, part of the Murray-Darling catchment, following a storm in February 2020.

Yesterday, the NSW Land and Environment Court ordered Whitehaven to pay a total of $158,750 to the Environmental Trust, to pay the Environment Protection Authority's investigation costs of $3,003, and to pay the EPA’s legal costs.

Whitehaven has an appalling environmental record, having been investigated or found guilty of legal breaches over 35 times in the last decade (see shame file here). 

It also comes after the Morrison Government purchased 70,000 tonnes of coal from Whitehaven for an undisclosed sum on the basis of sending it to Ukraine, despite not having a clear route to deliver the coal to the besieged country.

Maules Creek resident Ros Druce, who first reported the pollution event to the EPA after discovering the styrofoam balls in Back Creek, said it was a disappointing result, considering Whitehaven’s history as a repeat offender and the current high price of coal.

“Considering Whitehaven’s long list of previous offences, I was disappointed it did not receive a larger fine. Whitehaven needs to be fined an amount that actually encourages the company to be more responsible and prevent these sorts of environmental catastrophes,” she said.

“This fine is equal to a few train carriages loaded with coal from Whitehaven’s mines. It will do nothing to stop this criminal, repeat offender, from polluting the environment, just as they have many times before.

“Aquatic organisms in ephemeral waterways may be resilient but exposing them to food-like tiny styrofoam balls is detrimental to the environmental ecology of the entire river system.

“This cannot be looked upon as an accidental incident, when multiple prior warnings were given to Whitehaven.”

Boggabri farmer Sally Hunter said Whitehaven’s criminal behaviour was likely to continue unless the NSW Perrottet Government seriously cracked down on the company.

“Whitehaven’s shameful record is proof the Perrottet Government needs to crack down on this criminal company,” she said.

“The community is sick of shouldering their impacts while Whitehaven gets a mere slap on the wrist, time and time again.

“Yet again, this case demonstrates how little consideration Whitehaven has for its neighbours, the community, and the environment in which it operates.”

ENDS

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