A Land and Environment Court case loss in the Hunter Valley has highlighted the urgent need for mine rehabilitation law reform in NSW, according to Lock the Gate Alliance.
On Friday, Muswellbrook Council lost the case against BHP after arguing “best practice” rehabilitation methods in landscape restoration should apply to the company’s whole mine site at the nearby Mount Arthur coal mine.
The Land and Environment Court upheld BHP’s and the Planning Department’s argument that new methods of “micro-relief” to restore natural landforms should only have to apply to the new areas being mined at Mount Arthur since approval was granted for the mine to expand four years ago.
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said the outcome was disappointing.
“This shows the mining industry is not serious about rehabilitating and restoring land in the Hunter Valley,” she said.
“They are clearly not using the highest standard of rehabilitation. We call on the NSW Government to implement mine rehabilitation reform to make companies clean up their mines in line with public expectations.”
Ms Woods said the outcome was unfair on the people of the Hunter Valley.
"It is clear that policy and law reform are needed if the public is to have confidence that mining in the Hunter will be fully and appropriately rehabilitated,” she said.
“An election will be held in NSW in March, and this policy failure will be firmly in people’s minds when they go to the ballot box.
"It is very concerning that the industry and the NSW government want to leave bad decisions from the past as they are, meaning mining companies are free to leave the Hunter Valley landscapes unnatural and unproductive after mines close down. That will include leaving over 30 salty pit lakes or 'final voids', and unnatural mounds of mine spoil.
"The mining industry likes to say it has improved its methods of rehabilitation, but these improved methods must be applied to all mining areas. The Government must act swiftly to clarify this and introduce rehabilitation reform.
"Clearly, without mandated standards and targets for progressive rehabilitation, mining companies will do as little as they can get away with."
The Land and Environment Court judgement is here: https://www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/decision/5bfca0dfe4b0b9ab4021169c
Lock the Gate’s analysis of lagging mine rehabilitation in the Hunter Valley is here: https://www.lockthegate.org.au/fixing_the_holes_mine_rehabilitation_reform_can_deliver_for_jobs_and_the_environment