EPA questioned over BHP Mt Arthur pollution case

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has faced criticism for failing to publically reveal full details of a pollution case with BHP.

Last year the EPA launched proceedings against BHP in relation to blasting at the Mt Arthur coal mine on 19 February 2014 which resulted in plumes of orange smoke, thought to contain poisonous nitrogen dioxide, over the Muswellbrook industrial complex.

The pollution was caused by blasting charges which had been left in the ground nine days longer than the manufacturer’s specifications.

BHP had already been fined $1500 for two similar blasts that took place four months earlier.

BHP pleaded guilty to the pollution offence in the Land and Environment Court on April 10, with the charge relating to “causing an offensive odour”.

The EPA announced their successful prosecution of the case that day with a tweet at 4:47pm which read, “Hunter Valley Energy Coal entered guilty plea over 2014 odour incident at Mt Arthur@NSW–EPA welcomes news as a win for the community.”

However, the EPA did not issue a standard release on its website, despite similar releases being posted on April 9 and 14.

Muswellbrook mayor and barrister Martin Rush told Newcastle Herald he questioned if facts which led to the guilty plea were different from the facts which led to the EPA prosecution.

“There will be a suspicion in the community that the EPA did so because it had reached a closed-door deal with the offender about the factual circumstances that would be tendered to the court, and the penalty it would seek from the court on the basis of the offender’s plea,” he said.

“For the community, the paramount concern is that the offending behaviour is not repeated and that the penalty serves as a deterrence to Mount Arthur and all other mines from the commission of future similar offences.”

Lock the Gate Alliance Hunter spokesman Steve Phillips said the EPA needed to prove to the community it was an effective pollution watchdog.

“There is certainly a public perception that the EPA is very weak in its response to these kinds of breaches, but the NSW government also needs to lift its game,” Phillips said.

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