New Acland Coal hopes to expand their mine in Queensland’s Darling Downs. (ABC News: Louisa Rebgetz)
Queensland’s Environment Department has thrown embattled miner New Acland Coal a lifeline, despite its historic loss in the Land Court last year.
The court recommended against the coal mine’s expansion into agricultural land on Queensland’s Darling Downs, mainly because of uncertainty as to how it would affect long-term groundwater supplies.
But 7.30 has learned that despite the court’s ruling, the Environment Department invited New Acland Coal to submit new water modelling late last year.
In a letter to the department, dated October 3, New Acland Coal forwarded further new data which it argued provided “a great increase in confidence” of groundwater impacts.
“I think it stinks,” said cattle breeder Frank Ashman — one of more than 20 landholders objecting to the mine expansion.
“Departments should be working for all and sundry in the best interests of everybody.”
Local farmer Frank Ashman objects to the expansion of the New Acland Coal mine. (ABC News: Peter McCutcheon)
But the chief financial officer of New Hope, the parent company of New Acland Coal, said it was a fair process.
“If there’s an issue with something, I think the right thing to do is to look at what the issue was and try to resolve it,” Matthew Busch told 7.30.
‘Confident the mine will go ahead’
The Environment Department is expected to announce tomorrow whether it will grant the mine an environmental authority — the first step before obtaining a mining licence — and the new water modelling could be the deciding factor.
“We are confident the mine will go ahead,” Mr Busch said.
“We’re committed to doing that not just for the hundreds of employees that are dependent on it, but more importantly we’ve got the community that want this to go ahead,” he said.
A New Acland Coal information session for farmers at Jondaryan Town Hall. (ABC News: Peter McCutcheon)
Despite New Acland Coal’s claims of strong local support, the Land Court found there was deep division in the community.
The Palaszczuk Labor Government has yet to declare its position on the controversial mine, citing a judicial challenge to the court’s finding due to be heard next month.
The person ultimately responsible for deciding whether to grant the mining licence is Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham, who did not respond to 7.30’s request for an interview.
Under Queensland law, Mr Lynham also had an opportunity to offer advice to the department about how to handle New Acland Coal’s application for an environmental authority.
His office has confirmed the minister declined to offer any such advice.