Correspondence from Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s Department has indicated Whitehaven Coal’s full sordid history of environmental crimes may not be taken into account during the federal assessment of its Vickery coal mine because Whitehaven created a subsidiary company called Vickery Coal.
In a letter sent to Lock the Gate Alliance, Minister Ley’s Department says Vickery Coal’s history will be taken into account, but does not make the same commitment for its parent Whitehaven.
That’s despite the fact Vickery Coal is a wholly owned subsidiary of the company, and the fact Whitehaven only changed Vickery Coal to the proponent of the project two years ago, part way through the assessment process.
The alarming revelation comes as Whitehaven was once again fined this week for environmental breaches - this time at its Werris Creek coal mine near Quirindi for allowing an uncontrolled release of water from a sediment dam during heavy rains.
This latest penalty means during the last eight years, Whitehaven or its subsidiaries have been fined on more than 10 occasions at its north west NSW coal mines and have been prosecuted three times, including two prosecutions that are currently underway (full list here). These fines and other enforcement outcomes amount to more than $100,000.
“It’s clear that Whitehaven has engaged in a pattern of behaviour across all of its mining operations flagrantly disregarding environmental laws and conditions,” said Lock the Gate Alliance NSW coordinator Georgina Woods.
“A multitude of fines, which amount to slight slaps on the wrist for Whitehaven, have done nothing to change this company’s abhorrent behaviour. The company is also now being prosecuted by two different government agencies for serious environmental crimes.
“If this was an average Australian citizen who had committed these crimes, they would be looking at jail time - they certainly wouldn’t be given a free pass to build another polluting coal mine.
“The Minister must not make herself selectively blind to this history because of corporate trickery and name-switching.”
Boggabri local Sally Hunter said, “Sussan Ley's Department seems to be at risk of falling for Whitehaven's attempt to have its vast criminal history ignored. That simply does not pass the pub test.
“If a name change allows them to avoid proper scrutiny, then it makes a mockery of our federal law which is intended to stop repeat offenders and environmental vandals like Whitehaven from being allowed to create more havoc with new operations.
“We are calling on Minister Ley to do what is right by the farmers and communities of the north west and consider the full gamut of Whitehaven’s atrocious crimes when assessing Vickery.
“By anyone’s standard, this should amount to a rejection of this destructive, water draining coal mine proposal.”