The state’s environmental watchdog has been labelled a toothless tiger by environmentalists after it was revealed a mining giant breached its licence conditions on more than 50 occasion was only fined seven times.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) defended itself against the claim, stating it had some of the toughest regulations for mines in Australia and took its regulation of mines “very seriously”.
A spokesperson said that fines weren’t the only tool the EPA has to get companies to toe the line – it also used audits, adding or changing licence conditions, statutory directions and prosecution powers.
Environmental Justice Australia analysed the annual reports for Whitehaven Coal’s four Namoi Valley mines from 2010 to 2016 and found a total of 54 breaches had been reported – but the EPA only fined the company seven times for a total of $24,000.
Lock the Gate national coordinator Phil Laird said rather than acting like a watchdog, the EPA was “acting as a consultant, managing the issue and minimising the fallout”.
“I don’t think anyone looking at it on its face value would think that it’s doing an adequate job,” he said.
“The EPA says it takes mining regulations ‘very seriously’ – we don’t want them to take it seriously, we want them to resolve it.
“Taking it serious is like crocodile tears. These fines they're levying at mining companies are like water off a duck’s back.”
An EPA spokesperson said regulatory decisions were governed by its compliance policy, to ensure its “compliance actions are consistent, fair and credible”.
“The EPA takes compliance and enforcement action... as appropriate for each non-compliance,” the spokesperson said.
“For example to address non-compliances regarding the Maules Creek coal mine, the EPA has issued penalty notices, required an independent mandatory environmental audit to assess compliance with noise limits and issued pollution reduction programs.
“The EPA … also recently commissioned Katestone Environmental to examine dust control measures at the mine.”
A Whitehaven spokesman said the company took its environmental obligations “very seriously”.
“We have a great deal of confidence in our record of environmental management and the trend of strong compliance we believe the company has demonstrated over many years,” he said.
“Where there have been occasional instances of non-compliance, we have worked closely with all stakeholders, including the state government, to ensure any issues are quickly addressed and remedied.”
Northern Daily Leader