Mining conglomerate Rio Tinto has lost another court battle over the proposed extension of its massive Warkworth open-cut coal mine, situated near Bulga in the Upper Hunter.
The company had appealed to the Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn a ruling in the NSW Land and Environment Court that found the expected economic benefits would not be greater than its environmental impacts. Its appeal was unanimously rejected, although Rio Tinto now expects to lodge a new application with the O’Farrell government.
The controversy over the mine raged because of its proximity to the town of Bulga, and its plans to mine a biodiversity offset area, containing an endangered ecological community, the Warkworth Sands Woodland, and various threatened animal species including the squirrel glider and the speckled warbler.
According to Chris Salisbury, the managing direct of Rio Tinto’s Coal Division, the re-application will contain a “significant change” in terms of mitigating effects caused by the mine.
These include offering to buy nearby properties, placing more land in a national park and spending four million dollars on regeneration of the Warkworth Sands Woodlands.
According to The Australia Institute, the court case was primarily won due to the rejection of the company’s economic modelling and a recognition that the expected economic benefits did not justify the environmental costs.
Two key economists from within the insitutute, Dr Richard Denniss and Rod Campbell, gave evidence stating that “Rio Tinto and their consultants … overstated claims about jobs and economic benefits of this project from the start”.
“Rio’s economists told decision makers this mine, which employs 1,300 people, would somehow create 45,000 jobs – twice the number of people in Singleton! To come up with such numbers they used economic modelling the ABS describes as ‘biased’ and which the Productivity Commission describes as ‘abused’.”
“Rio has claimed if it didn’t get a 2 per cent increase in mining area it would sack 100 per cent of its workforce.Today’s judgement shows that the NSW court system is able to see through these exaggerated claims,”
The village of Bulga, near Singleton, is flanked by about 15 kilometres of coal mines, owned by other mining companies such as Xstrata. The Rio mine is now within six kilometres of Bulga and would “gradually’’ move to within 2.6 kilometres of the village by 2035 if the extension proceeds.
The court ordered Rio Tinto to pay Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association costs which thus far has totalled around $100,000 over the past four years – including around $30,000 in the Supreme Court alone.