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Issue #1580      February 6, 2013

Deceptive practices revealed

Farmers and conservationists are calling on the federal government to reject Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek mine proposal and investigate whether the company has provided false or misleading information to obtain an approval under federal environment law.

Farmers whose properties may be impacted by the proposed open-cut coal mine in Leard Forest near Boggabri in northwest NSW came to Sydney last week to release an ecologist’s report that highlights serious discrepancies in the Whitehaven Coal’s biodiversity offsets program, which is a critical element of the company’s application.

Nature Conservation Council chief executive officer Pepe Clarke said Whitehaven Coal planned to clear more than 500 hectares of critically endangered White Box-Gum woodland, which requires offsets of the same ecosystem type to be protected elsewhere.

“However, the areas that the company has mapped as endangered White Box-Gum woodland in their proposed offsets are in fact a totally different vegetation type,” Mr Clarke said.

“The vegetation in the offsets is not endangered, contains little or no White Box and does not provide habitat for the threatened species the offset was supposed to protect: the Swift Parrot, Regent Honeyeater or Corben’s Long-eared Bat.”

He said that the NSW government had approved the mine on the basis of the highly questionable offsets and that a final decision on whether the mine will be approved by the federal government is now imminent.

“The federal government must reject the proposal and investigate whether the company has provided false or misleading information to obtain an approval under federal environment law.”

The farmers’ visit to Sydney coincided with Jonathan Moylan’s appearance before the Australian Securities and Investments Commission in relation to his releasing a hoax media release under the ANZ Bank logo two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, reports the O’Farrell government slashed funding to the Environmental Defenders Office and tightened its eligibility guidelines to exclude “activists and lobby groups” after it had been lobbied by the mining industry are extremely disturbing, according to the Nature Conservation Council.

Pepe Clarke said the EDO funding cuts and tight new limits on eligibility were an unwarranted attack on a valuable community service.

“`The EDO is a critical resource that ensures citizens understand and can exercise their legal rights to protect the environment when other institutions fail to do so,” Mr Clarke said.

“Many of those who the EDO assists are individuals or small community groups who have nowhere else to turn for advice.”

Mr Clarke said the revelation that government attacks on the EDO began after the mining industry asked it to act added to the impression that the resource extraction industries have undue influence on the Coalition partners and on government policy.

The reports indicate the EDO’s funding and operating guidelines were changed after Minerals Council’s chief executive Stephen Galilee, who was formerly state Treasurer Mike Baird’s chief-of-staff, wrote to Premier Barry O’Farrell accusing the EDO of a “deliberate campaign of economic sabotage” against the coal industry.

“While Mr O’Farrell’s office reportedly declined to say whether anything was done in response to the letter, subsequent actions and comments by government ministers suggest the government’s and the Minerals Council’s views are very closely aligned,” Mr Clarke said.

“The government must adequately fund the EDO to ensure ordinary people have access to legal advice that enables them to protect their local environment and the community’s health.”  

Next article – Hidden agenda behind America’s war on Africa

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