Community concerns about the way air pollution is reported by mines in the Gunnedah region could be fixed by “the stroke of a pen” from Planning Minister Rob Stokes, Environmental Justice Australia says.
The group has challenged Mr Stokes to make the region part of the government-run air monitoring system, rather than allowing mines to carry out their own testing.
However Mr Stokes’ office told The Leader it was a matter best directed to Environment Minister Mark Speakman.
EJA researcher James Whelan said the government had already set a precedent for such a move – in 2011, the Upper Hunter mines were integrated into the state run air monitoring system in response to community concern.
“The monitoring was conducted by the mines and the community was unhappy – it was difficult to access the data and when they did get it they didn’t trust it,” Mr Whelan said.
“It’s exactly the same situation we are seeing in our region.
“Under the current system, if residents of the Namoi Valley want to get a clear picture of what the air is like they have to potentially download hundreds of Excel files from the Office of Environment and Heritage website. Most of it is quite technical and difficult to sort though.”
The NSW government run monitoring system is the “best in Australia” and “very user friendly”.
EJA recently reviewed the data from the region’s four monitoring stations, run by Whitehaven Coal and Idemitsu, and found they were reporting “false and misleading data”.
Mr Whelan said under their approval conditions, the mines must report air quality effectively and accurately – as that’s not happening, he said Mr Stokes needed to step in and enforce the condition by placing a levy on the region’s mines to fund a state-run system.
A spokesman for Mr Speakman said the ability to levy funding from industry for monitoring networks fell under the Protection of the Environment Operations (POEO) Act and Regulation.
“The NSW EPA commissioned an audit of monitoring equipment at Maules Creek earlier this year in response to concerns about air quality in the region, and is currently reviewing the audit’s findings,” an EPA spokesperson said.
“The EPA continues to investigate options for an air quality monitoring network for the New England North West region, including levy funding, in close consultation with local residents and industries,” an EPA spokesperson said.
An Idemitsu spokesman said it took its compliance requirements “very seriously”.
The Leader approached Whitehaven for a comment, but the company did not provide one.