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Lock the Gate cries foul over Rio Tinto water trigger dodge

Lock the Gate Alliance is accusing Rio Tinto of trying to dodge full assessment under Commonwealth environment legislation for its Hunter Valley Operations mining complex in the Hunter Valley and has lodged a submission with the Government arguing that fair and comprehensive application of the law demands assessment be undertaken.

Rio Tinto has referred two projects for consideration under the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act but claims that neither should have the Act’s water trigger applied.

The water trigger was created three years ago to consider the impacts of coal mining and coal seam gas on water resources. While the Hunter Valley Operations mine complex has not previously had to be assessed because its operations pre-date the law, fresh referral now following the listing last year of another Hunter Valley ecological community as Critically Endangered, has triggered this referral and provides the opportunity for the assessment to take place.

The Central Hunter Valley Eucalypt Forest was listed as critically endangered in May last year, but Rio Tinto has waited until now to make this referral, claiming that it is urgent, as they want to clear this forest next month.

Lock the Gate NSW Coordinator, Georgina Woods said, “Rio Tinto's Hunter Valley Operations is one of the biggest mines in the Hunter and straddles the Hunter River and its floodplain with its five large pits. It is one of the biggest dumpers of polluted mine water into the Hunter River and has the second largest inflow of groundwater to its pits.

“For too long, these huge mine complexes have dodged proper cumulative assessment of their impacts on the Hunter River and groundwater in the region. They’re been altering catchments, diverting creeks, dumping pollution and pulling up groundwater in huge quantities. The company’s own modelling shows that Hunter River and Wollombi Brook surface water has been flowing into open cut pits at Hunter Valley Operations.

“This manoeuvre is contrary to both the spirit and the letter of Commonwealth environment law and the public is frankly fed up with mining companies trying to dodge scrutiny”

“Three years after the water trigger came into effect, Rio Tinto is still trying to avoid proper assessment of the impact of this mine on water resources. Combined with several other huge mines nearby, this mine is doing damage to water in the Hunter, and they should be held to account for it.

“We’re seeking action from the Commonwealth in ensuring this mine is called in and properly assessed under the EPBC Act, and that a cumulative assessment of the effect of all these open cut mines on water resources in the Hunter is conducted. Obviously, no further expansion of Hunter Valley Operations or the nearby mines should take place until that’s done.”

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