The penalty infringement notice, issued on the 27th of June by the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE), was issued for ‘failure to comply with conditions of approval’ and carries a $3000 fine.
Mt Arthur Coal’s operating conditions require the mine to “implement best practice air quality management, including all reasonable and feasible measures to minimalise offsite dust emissions of the Mt Arthur complex”.
The complaint from Muswellbrook Shire Council was made on the morning of June 24.
Departmental response took place in half an hour, in time for an officer to witness trucks dumping overburden at an elevated level in windy conditions.
Mt Arthur Coal had already been warned in September 2012 for a similar incident.
Shire of Muswellbrook mayor Martin Rush said that environmental planning conditions requiring the use of best practice techniques to minimise the harmful emission of dust "are not there to decorate mining consents".
"The conditions are real: They are real because there is no safe level of dust emissions and reducing dust is therefore in everyone's interest," he said.
"There is a correlation between an increase in dust generation and a deterioration in human population health."
Mayor Rush pointed out that this is not the first time BHP Billiton has been caught dumping overburden at elevated levels in windy conditions, despite repeated warnings not to do so.
He also expressed his disappointment in the low-level fine issued by the DPE.
"A $3000 fine imposed on a multinational corporation is an entirely inappropriate penalty for offenses relating to laws designed to protect human health," he said.
"Privately, both the executive and elected arms of government know this too.
"It is high time that offenders were subject to a much greater array of powers from regulatory bodies including hefty fines imposed upon individuals within a corporation who knowingly or recklessly direct the corporation to breach environmental planning conditions."
The DPE has a “standalone” compliance office in Singleton to oversee the conduct of Upper Hunter coal mines, which also takes in the Gloucester, Mudgee and Gunnedah regions.
BHP Billiton have released a statement this afternoon, saying that Mt Arthur Coal takes its environmental and community responsibilities very seriously.
“An investigation will be conducted to review the execution of our Air Quality Control Measures (documented in Mt Arthur Coal’s approved Air Quality and Greenhouse Gas Management Plan) in relation to high winds experienced on 24 June 2014,” a spokesperson said.