The New South Wales Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) has granted permission to Rio Tinto to proceed with the plans to extend its controversial Warkworth mine in the Upper Hunter.
In 2012 the Government approved a much more radical expansion program, only to be knocked back by the Environment Court in 2013. The Supreme Court is yet to deliver a ruling on the appeal.
According to the news article on the ABC, Rio Tinto officials stated that the company needs to mine 30 hectares of environmental offsets it had previously agreed not to dig up in order to remain economically feasible.
Matt Klar, spokesman for Coal & Allied, the company running the mine, said the company is still weighing the PAC decision, but will proceed with the next phase of the mine’s expansion.
“This is absolutely a matter of urgency for us to secure a longer term future for the mine beyond 2015,” said Mr Klar.
According to NSW Minerals Council CEO, Stephen Galilee, the decision will enable Coal & Allied to maintain current production levels for around two years, securing the jobs of more than 1,300 local workers during that period.
“This project has been operating for over thirty years, and is an economic mainstay for the region, driving significant local economic activity,” Mr Galilee said.
“In 2012, the mine spent more than $210 million on close to 280 local suppliers in the Upper Hunter Valley. This direct spending also generated significant additional economic activity right across the Hunter region.”
The Commission took into consideration the community objections to the proposal, but stated that it’s pleased that the impact of the mine expansion is acceptable.
However, conservation groups are questioning the logic behind the decision of the Land and Environmental Court to reject the mine expansion, only for it to be given the go ahead under new mining laws.
According to the Secretary for the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association John Krey, the minor modification was a test of new mining laws and an attempt by the company to push for a much larger expansion.
“They now have their formula set. They know how to go about getting a bigger expansion, they used the SEPP amendment and they’re through,” said Mr Krey.
“So it’s what we thought all along, that this is only the first small step in a much bigger process and they are looking for the whole area that has been rejected by the land and environment court and which of course is still out there in the Supreme Court.”