Australia Group Sues to Block Whitehaven Coal Mines

An Australian environmental group sued to block the construction of Whitehaven Coal Ltd. (WHC)’s A$766 million ($702 million) Maules Creek mine and a neighboring coal development, saying they’ll devastate forest areas.

The Northland Inland Council for the Environment Inc. said in an e-mailed statement it filed the lawsuit yesterday in Sydney Federal Court under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act seeking to overturn a February government approval for the projects. A copy of the complaint wasn’t immediately available from the court, although the case is listed on its website.

“Vast areas of forest that provide habitat for native plants and animals, including the Koala, will be bulldozed and converted into an open-cut coal pit,” Phil Spark, a spokesman for the council, said in the statement.

The action is the latest from environmental groups that are stepping up efforts to discourage coal mining in parts of Australia, the world’s biggest source of the commodity. Coast and Country Association of Qld Inc. filed a complaint in February to block a plan by Indian entrepreneur G.V. Krishna Reddy’s GVK Group and Gina Rinehart, Asia’s richest woman, to build a $10 billion coal mine, port and rail project. Last year, environmentalists failed in a bid to block Xstrata Plc’s construction of the Wandoan coal mine in Queensland.

Rio Mine

Rio Tinto Group (RIO)’s plan to expand a coal mine in the Australian wine-growing region of Hunter Valley was rejected by a judge in April because of environmental concerns, overturning an earlier government approval.

The Maules Creek challenge differs from the Rio Tinto case because the suit isn’t asking the court to determine the merit of the project, only whether the minister made legal errors in approving the mines, Whitehaven said today in a statement.

If the court finds an error occurred, the company said it will ask that it be fixed and reapproved. The filing of the lawsuit doesn’t prevent the mine construction from starting, Whitehaven said.

A preliminary hearing on Northern Inland Council’s lawsuit is scheduled for Aug. 13 in Sydney.

“If these mines proceed, they will rip the heart out of our local farming community,” Peter Watson, a farmer near the proposed Whitehaven mines, said in the statement.

Start Expected

Whitehaven, Australia’s second-biggest independent coal producer, received final approval for the Maules Creek mine construction on July 4. The company has said it expects to start production in the first half of next year. The company has said it was “extremely disappointed” over delays in getting approvals after starting the process in August 2010.

Northern Inland Council said it’s also challenging the approval of Idemitsu Kosan Ltd.’s Boggabri coal mine.

“The decision to approve these highly controversial mines was made in haste, after documents were leaked, and on the basis of potentially false or misleading information,” Spark said.

The case is Northern Inland Council for the Environment Inc. v Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Water and Whitehaven Coal Ltd. NSD1404/2013. Federal Court of Australia (Sydney).

To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Schneider in Sydney at jschneider5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Douglas Wong at dwong19@bloomberg.net

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