Legal action has been launched against Whitehaven Coal for failing to secure the necessary biodiversity offsets for its Maules Creek coal mine.
Among the federal environmental conditions applied to the project in 2013 was that the company offset the destruction of 5,532 hectares of endangered Grassy Whitebox Woodland.
The action was brought against the company by the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) on behalf of the South East Forest Rescue.
Whitehaven had until midnight on March 31, 2020, to secure the necessary biodiversity offsets, however this didn’t happened.
CEO of the EDO, David Morris, which is representing SEFR, said, “The recent Australian bushfires devastated threatened species and native habitat across the country. Protecting our unique landscapes has never been more important. That is why we are proud to represent SEFR in taking the brave step of pursuing this matter in the Federal Court.”
Scott Danes, from South East Forest Rescue, which has launched the legal action said, “Whitehaven Coal has cleared almost all of the critically endangered Grassy Whitebox Woodland on the site, but more than five years after the mine began construction, the company has still not delivered its promised biodiversity offsets.
“Mining companies are not above the law. The Maules Creek coal mine has done enormous damage to biodiversity in the Leard forest.
“This is not even the first time Whitehaven has failed to meet the offset date. The date has been extended twice since the original approval.”
Ros Druce, who lives on her family property at Maules Creek, said, “In the beginning, I could hear the bulldozers. It was just devastating.
Disrespectful to community
“The company’s behaviour has just been totally disrespectful to the community and the environment.
“On behalf of the community, I asked Whitehaven multiple times about this at the Community Consultative Committee meetings, but the company is very rarely forthcoming with answers.
“This was part of the company’s consent conditions, that these offset properties were procured in perpetuity, and it’s still ongoing due to extension after extension by the Department of Planning.”
David Morris of the EDO said, “SEFR is seeking declarations from the Federal Court that Whitehaven has breached, and will continue to breach, its federal approval conditions by failing to secure some 5,532 hectares of box-gum grassy woodland.
“Our client also seeks orders requiring that the biodiversity offsets are secured and independently verified before further clearing goes ahead.”
Biodiversity offsets a failure
“The use of biodiversity ‘offsets’ as a tool to address the impacts of mining and other developments is failing us, failing future generations and our precious plants and animals”, said Morris. “It condemns forests and wildlife to ‘death by a thousand cuts’ because it allows clearing of sites now, on the promise of something else being secured in the future.”
Whitehaven’s Maules Creek coal mine is a prime example of why biodiversity offsetting doesn’t work.
In 2013, Whitehaven gained approval for the mine on the condition that it obtain biodiversity offsets to compensate for clearing the iconic and critically endangered box gum grassy woodland, more formally known as White Box-Yellow Box-Blakely’s Red Gum Grassy Woodland and Derived Native Grassland. Seven years on, it still has not secured those offsets, in the order of some 5,532 hectares. Meanwhile, the bulldozing has continued.
The company has now applied for its third extension of time to comply with the offsetting conditions in its federal approval.