Aussie state change to mining rules could block planned projects — industry

Aussie state change to mining rules could block planned projects — industry

Bulga's Mount Thorley Warkworth open cut mine. (Image courtesy of Rio Tinto)

The Australian state of New South Wales’ proposed modifications to its mining policies could force changes to planned projects, or even block them, by giving greater weight to social and environmental factors during the approval process, miners said Tuesday.

The draft amendment to the Mining State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) has angered the industry while giving hope to campaigners fighting contentious projects.

"Getting the balance right is important, but you can't have viable communities and a clean environment without a strong economy," NSW Minerals Council chief Stephen Galilee said in a statement.

As NSW is one of Australia's largest coal producers, new mines and expansions currently under the approval processes are likely to be affected if changes are approved, including Rio Tinto’s (LON:RIO) controversial Mount Thorley Warkworth open cut coal mine expansion, Reuters reports.

The planned expansion of such mine would bring it within 3km of the small town of Bulga, home to about 350 people. The independent Planning Assessment Commission (PAC), which is reviewing Rio’s plan, said in March that “serious consideration” should be given to moving the entire town if the proposal to extend the life of the mine by a further 21 years went ahead.

But the same commission said later that relocation of the community wouldn’t be necessary.

According to the NSW Minerals Council, there are 1,300 workers at Rio Tinto’s Mount Thorley and Warkworth operations, and there is strong community support to mining in the area.

The Warkworth mine is part of a larger mining complex producing about 12 million metric tons a year of thermal and coking coal for the local market and customers in Asia.

New South Wales is already seen as the toughest Australian state to get mining approvals, because it outsources the process to the independent commission.