Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has now given conditional approval for the controversial Maules Creek and Boggabri Coal projects.
The decision comes just three days after the minister announced the government would delay the projects for another three months to consider environmental factors.
Mr Burke admitted yesterday he had to bring forward his decision after accusing the NSW Government of leaking commercially sensitive documents which reportedly indicate the federal minister intended on approving the mines back in December.
Both projects will be subject to strict conditions as well as further work to minimise their potential environmental impacts.
Mr Burke said he is satisfied they can go ahead without “unacceptable impacts on matters protected under national environment law”.
“In each of these ... additional approvals there is more work to be concluded before the project can actually proceed,” Minister Burke said.
“As the conditions make clear where more work, new plans or further modelling needs to take place, then this must be carried out to my satisfaction.
“It has always been my preference to minimise the number of planning and modelling processes which
have to continue after a decision has been made because I want companies to be able to determine whether or not a project will go ahead on the basis of the conditions they see in my decision,” he said.
y Whitehaven Coal, which had been planning to begin operations at Maules Creek this year.
The mine has been earmarked as one of the most viable coal development projects in the world with a large reserve of high quality coal.
“Notwithstanding the stringent environmental conditions which have been placed on the project and the difficult coal market at present, this is an excellent project and Whitehaven will be seeking to bring it into production as soon as possible,” Whitehaven Coal Managing Director Tony Haggarty said.
The Boggabri Coal expansion project will see the mine increase production to seven million tonnes per annum until 2053, with construction set to begin next month.
The company, Idemitsu Australia Resources, had been at a standstill after beginning some expansion works and purchasing heavy machinery.
Chief Operating Officer Rod Bridges, said the approval reinforces the company’s approach to robust planning and mitigation practices for each of its mining assets, and will lead to the immediate delivery of tangible benefits within the local region, including an increase in the workforce required at the height of construction of the expanded coal handling plant.
“Boggabri Coal Mine currently employs approximately 500 people, with 73 per cent of this workforce residing locally. The extension to the mine means added certainty and additional opportunities for local residents and the large number of contractors who rely on
our operation for employment,” he said.
Minister Burke said he had considered advice from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Coal Mining on the water-related impacts of the developments, as required by law.
“In considering these proposals I have taken into account their likely impacts on the critically endangered ecological community including the white box, yellow box, blakely’s red gum, grassy woodland and native grassland and listed endangered and migratory species, in particular, the swift parrot, regent honey-eater and greater long-eared bat,” Mr Burke said.
“The companies must now work together to minimise their cumulative impacts on the Leard State Forest and to maximise their biodiversity outcomes through their required offsets.
“Proposed offsets for the surrounding Leard State Forest aim to build up vegetation and create corridor linkages between the two projects, to protect native species.”
Minister Burke is believed to have ruled out working with the NSW Government on the project after the leaking of documents, and says it’s “unfortunate but a decision that they have effectively made for themselves”.