Whitehaven Falls After Maules Creek Permit Delay: Sydney Mover

Whitehaven Coal Ltd., Australia’s second-biggest independent producer, fell to a two-month low after the federal government delayed a decision to grant environmental approval for the development of two mines.

Whitehaven fell 5.3 percent to A$3.02, its lowest since Dec. 7, at the close of trading in Sydney. The stock has declined 44 percent over the past year.

A decision to grant approval for the A$766 million ($791 million) Maules Creek project in New South Wales state was delayed by three months to April 30, the government said yesterday. The project, in the Gunnedah Basin agricultural region, is being opposed by environmental and farming groups.

“Whitehaven is not aware of any substantive issues with the environmental evaluations or process which has been followed,” Tony Haggarty, managing director of the Sydney-based company, said today in a statement. “We are extremely disappointed at this further delay to this important project.”

The government also delayed approval until April 30 for Whitehaven’s Boggabri coal project, also in the Gunnedah Basin.

The environment department delayed the decision “to seek clarification on potential impacts to matters of national environmental significance,” the department said in an e-mail. Given the close proximity of the projects “it is appropriate that their respective impacts are assessed in parallel, to look at their cumulative impacts as a whole, and to ensure they deliver long-term environmental sustainability for the region.”

Whitehaven plans to produce first coal at Maules Creek in mid-2014, the company said last month. It last week flagged that first-half earnings will drop on lower prices and the high Australian dollar.

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