Rio defends Warkworth coal expansion against planning changes

Rio Tinto has defended the expansion of the Warkworth coal mine in the face of changes to NSW planning regulations.

Rio Tinto Coal Australia managing director Chris Salisbury issued a statement yesterday repeating their position that the Mount Thorley Warkworth will bring significant benefits to NSW and other communities in the Hunter Valley.

“Rigorous independent economic analysis has shown Mount Thorley Warkworth will deliver $1.5 billion to the NSW economy in the form of wages, royalties and taxes over coming decades, if mining is allowed to continue,” he said.

“An approval will allow this mine to continue providing jobs for 1300 people and spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year with other businesses across NSW.

“Clearly, these significant economic considerations should be balanced against social and environmental factors, and that our proposals meet all of the relevant NSW Government planning policies and requirements.”

The company has not yet explicitly stated whether or not it opposes yesterday’s move by the Baird Government to remove a clause in state planning rules which states economic benefits should be the key criteria when assessing a new mine or expansion.

The amended clause was added to planning regulations in 2013 after Rio Tinto complained that the NSW Land and Environment Court overturned approval the Warkworth expansion based on Rio Tinto’s overstatement of economic benefits of the project.

Critics said the amendment was rushed through parliament.

The Warkworth expansion has faced active opposition from residents of the nearby Bulga Village, as well as horse breeders, wine growers and farmers in the Hunter Valley, and is has nearly reached full approval with a positive recommendation from the NSW Department of Planning and Environment.

Plans for the Warkworth expansion include using noise attenuating modifications for all diesel powered equipment by the end of 2016, a regeneration program for the endangered Warkworth Sands Woodlands, and rolling rehabilitation of the Mount Thorley mine void using material from the Warkworth mine.

NSW planning minister Rob Stokes introduced the draft amendment to parliament yesterday, which he said reflected the legislative requirement for decision makers to consider the likely environmental, social and economic impacts of a mining development.

“The protection of the environment and the promotion of the social and economic welfare of the community have always been objects of planning legislation,” Stokes said.

“The careful deliberation of environmental, economic and social issues is fundamental to good planning.

“This proposed amendment reflects the importance of balance in assessing the likely impacts of mining developments.”

Image: The Australian

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