A project as large and as economically significant as Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek mine was always going to be hard to stop.
The project, worth more than $700 million and with 1000 jobs attached to it, dwarfed the environmental concerns regardless of their legitimacy.
The long process for approval ended yesterday when the federal Environment Minister Tony Burke gave Maules Creek the go ahead, along with the expansion of the neighbouring Boggabri mine operated by Idemitsu.
Neighbouring farmers and environmentalists who had tried to stop the approval were gutted. The reality is, however, approval was to be expected.
Mr Burke has imposed what he has called “strict conditions”, while necessary, they are unlikely to placate the opponents of both projects. They are, however, the minister’s response to the environmental issues and will be judged as grossly inadequate.
The approvals have been applauded by the NSW Minerals Council which says the right balance of environmental management and responsible economic decision making has been made.
The conditions, however, come at a heavy cost and are a significant impost on the mining companies. But that is the cost of doing business these days under the regulations of environmental laws.
To most people the controls mean very little. Mr Burke says he has considered the likely impacts on the critically endangered ecological community in the neighbouring Leard State Forest including the white box, yellow box, Blakely’s red gum, grassy woodland and native grassland and listed endangered and migratory species such as the swift parrot, regent honey-eater and greater long-eared bat.
What can’t be denied is the environment at these mines will not be the same. Offset biodiversity outcomes won’t replace what’s there.
The total cost of these projects is in excess of their start-up capital when the true environmental impact is applied. You, however, can’t put an economic value on the regent honey-eater or the greater long-eared bat as they are not traded commodities, just part of the ecology which gets in the way of progress.