LEGAL threats from environmentalists outraged by the Maules Creek coalmine approval have come as the company behind the project was the subject of a Senate hearing yesterday.
Whitehaven Coal’s controversial Maules Creek proposal received conditional federal approval on Monday.
Community members’ claims that Whitehaven provided misleading information in the mine’s application could now be at the centre of a Senate investigation by the Department of Environment.
They are determined to see the conditional approval taken to court, saying it’s up to them and not governments which “can’t be trusted with the task.”
They have already established a legal fighting fund through the Hunter Community Environment Centre.
Their claims, from ecologists hired by the Maules Creek community, found the miner’s environmental offset package in the Leard State Forest could have breached the law.
It is understood the company intends to clear a number of hectares of endangered white box-gum woodland, which requires protected offsets of the same ecosystem type elsewhere.
But the ecologists found Whitehaven’s offsets would be of a different vegetation type, containing little or none of the woodland; a habitat for threatened species.
In yesterday’s Senate hearing, it was revealed the Department of Environment would be looking into the allegations.
The Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke unexpectedly made approval decisions on the Maules Creek mine and Japanese miner Idemitsu’s Boggabri coalmine expansion ahead of an April 30 deadline he had set just days before.
Idemitsu’s mine extension will support additional production up until 2053, generating more than a thousand jobs and up to $120 million a year for the local economy.
Under the Boggabri coalmine’s offset package, it will set aside more than 8000 hectares of protected land.
Its construction phase is expected to start next month.
Whitehaven won’t be able to begin its project until December 30, when its offset package is approved by the minister.
Conservationists, farmers and activists have questioned why the minister would take the step to approve the mine in the first place, without taking the new offset information into account.
At least five environmental groups from across the state issued statements yesterday, condemning Mr Burke.
Nature Conservation Council of NSW chief executive Pepe Clarke said the decisions represented a disgraceful failure of government policy on mining development.
“It is especially troubling that the Maules Creek mine appears to have been approved without detailed offset requirements, despite serious concerns about the adequacy and accuracy of the company’s offsets proposal,” Mr Clarke said.
The Lock the Gate Alliance said legal challenges were likely.
The Wilderness Society’s Naomi Hogan said the approval proved yet again it would be up to community members to protect the environment as governments “certainly couldn’t be trusted with the task”.