NSW environmental watchdog bashed over BHP’s coal pollution case

NSW environmental watchdog bashed over BHP’s coal pollution case

BHP Billiton’s Mount Arthur coal mine.

Australia’s New South Wales Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is facing mounting criticism for failing to publicly reveal full details of a pollution case by BHP Billiton’s Mount Arthur coal mine.

According to The Herald, local authorities question the way EPA handled the news of BHP’s guilty plea in court, divulged via a single tweet early last month.

The case refers to a probe into the causes and consequences of a blast at Mt. Arthur open-cut coal mine, located in the Hunter Valley, in February last year. The incident released fumes containing toxic substances, such as nitrogen dioxide, into the air and blast materials — believed to be ammonium nitrate and fuel oil — were left in the ground for nine days longer than the manufacturer’s recommendations.

BHP had already been fined $1,500 for two similar blasts that took place four months earlier than the Mt. Arthur’s event.

The 14-months long investigation ended on April 10, with BHP accepting the charge of “causing an offensive odour.” However, the EPA did not release any statement, as it usually does in these cases, nor said anything about the alleged pollution caused by the blast.

‘‘There will be a suspicion in the community that the EPA did so because it had reached a closed-door deal with the offender about the factual circumstances that would be tendered to the court,” Muswellbrook mayor and barrister Martin Rush told The Herald.

“[It is also uncertain] the penalty EPA would seek from the court on the basis of the offender’s plea,” he added.

The world’s largest miner cut over 150 jobs at the mine earlier this year, adding to the more than 4,000 direct coal jobs lost in the coal-rich Hunter Valley region in the past two years.