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Rio Tinto loses coal mine expansion appeal

World Coal,

Rio Tinto has lost a court appeal to expand its Warkworth open-cut coal mine, near Bulga, in New South Wales.

Application dismissed

The mining company had appealed to the Supreme Court to over-rule a decision by the NSW Land and Environment Court that had found the expected economic benefits of the mine expansion did not justify its environmental impacts. The Court of Appeal however unanimously dismissed Rio’s application.

The company has already submitted revised development plans for the coal mine under new NSW state planning laws introduced in 2013.

Environmental impacts

Sue Higginson, solicitor for the Environmental Defenders Office NSW, described the result as “a terrific win for the community and public interest law”.

“The Court of Appeal found no fault with the Land and Environment Court decision that the economic benefits of the coal mine did not outweigh the significant impacts on Bulga residents and the destruction of rare forests containing endangered plant and animal species,” she added.

‘Hollow victory’

Opponent of the coal mine, John Krey, who is VP of the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association, explained that the fact Rio Tinto had resubmitted its application with the state’s planning ministry means the legal win was “almost a hollow victory”.

Krey explained that the community would encourage Planning Minister Brad Hazzard to dismiss Rio’s mine extension application now that two courts had rejected it.

Future of the mine?

In its new application, Rio Tinto said that it would provide employment for 1300 people and extend the future of a mine that had operated for more than 30 years.

Chris Salisbury, managing director of Rio Tinto’s Australian coal division, said the recent court rejection had been expected as the company had "only a slim chance of success" because of the narrow point of law being appealed.

The planning approval delays have cost approximately 1 million t of coal, "putting even more pressure on the economics and viability of the mine’’, according to Salisbury.

New application

The company's new application contains a "significant change" in terms of offsets and mitigating actions to limit the expanded mine's impacts.

These include offering to buy nearby properties, placing more land in a national park and spending AU$ 4 million on regeneration of the Warkworth Sands Woodlands.

Edited from various sources by Katie Woodward

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