Saturday December 15 2012
Front Line Action on Coal has reacted with alarm to revelations that the Department of Planning intends to let Whitehaven Coal off the hook for breaching their development consent by sending hundreds of truck movements down the Kamilaroi Highway earlier this week.
The group alerted the Department on Wednesday that the company was in breach of Condition 7, Section 2 of their development consent, which prohibits the company from moving coal from their site except by rail. The group also sent a “cease and desist” letter via the Environmental Defender’s Office.
The department confirmed on Thursday that it had directed Whitehaven to stop their illegal trucking operation, contrary to the company’s claims that it stopped the “trial” voluntarily.
However, Front Line Action on Coal has obtained an email sent by the department that says it will not penalise Whitehaven because it eventually complied with its consent, and that it “understood” Whitehaven’s motivations for breaching the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, “irrespective of the fact that it couldn’t legally proceed”. Penalties for breaches of the act can be up to $1.1 million, with an addition $110 000 for each day of the offence in addition to compliance cost orders.
The Department also confirmed that it was still assessing Whitehaven and Idemitsu’s applications to truck coal.
“Whitehaven Coal knew full well that it was breaking the law by sending hundreds of truck movements down the highway because it was still seeking permission to change the condition that prohibited the trucking operation,” said Jonathan Moylan, a spokesperson for Front Line Action on Coal.
“By failing to impose a penalty, the Department is effectively telling mining companies that they can do what they want and get away with it,” Mr. Moylan said.
“We understand that Whitehaven’s illegal trucking operation nearly caused a collision and led to severe disruption on the highway and in Boggabri. These laws are in place to protect the community.”
“Whitehaven is seeking approval to mine up thousands of hectares of forests and farmlands, and this incident gives us little confidence that the regulator will enforce the environmental standards required,” Mr. Moylan said.
Last year, Whitehaven was fined $3000 for illegally discharging pit water into the Namoi River, which destroyed a local farmer’s crop.
The Department is also assessing an application from Idemitsu which would allow it to truck coal in any future situation it deems an emergency.
The following documents are available on request:
FLAC submission on emergency trucking, which alerted the Department to the breach
Cease and desist letter from the Environmental Defender’s Office
Email from Planning confirming that Whitehaven had no permission to truck coal
Email from Planning stating that they would not impose penalties
Whitehaven Coal’s conditions of approval