After years of community concern and engagement, the conditions for the Maules Creek Coal Mine have been varied by the Federal Environment Minister to acknowledge that the mine’s owner, Whitehaven Coal, needs to acquire additional offset areas.
The variation decision means that the Environmental Defenders Office’s clients, South East Forest Rescue (SEFR), can now discontinue its civil enforcement case.
Approval for the mine, in north-west New South Wales, was granted in 2013 on the condition that Whitehaven Coal secure the offsets in return for clearing a large area of a critically endangered woodland.
The local community has raised repeated concerns about the adequacy of the proposed offset areas since the approval was given.
Last year, South East Forest Rescue (SEFR), represented by the EDO, commenced proceedings in the Federal Court.
SEFR argued that Whitehaven had failed to verify that its proposed offset areas would satisfy the offsetting requirements and that the suite of proposed offsets was inadequate.
The Federal Minister for the Environment has now varied the mine’s approval to recognise that Whitehaven needs to identify and secure independently-verified offset areas, additional to those originally proposed.
EDO Biodiversity Managing Lawyer Andrew Kwan said:
“That the Environment Minister has now stepped in to vary the conditions in this way is welcome news for the local community, and hopefully for mitigating impacts on the critically endangered Box Gum Grassy Woodland.
“It is now up to Whitehaven to identify additional offset areas and provide independent verification to satisfy the Minister that the offsetting requirements have been satisfied within the required timeframes.
“However, if it meets the new timeframes, Whitehaven will have had the best part of a decade to secure the required offsets for impacts it has already caused.
“This lays bare the inadequacy of offset laws and their regulation – not only has it taken the community in this case to scrutinise and apply pressure, we need a regulatory approach that enforces timely mitigation of impacts on our precious biodiversity.”