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January 2020

Company penalised for environmental offences

Environment Protection Authority v Hunter Valley Energy Coal Pty Ltd (2015)

Facts

Hunter Valley Energy Coal Pty Ltd (HVEC) operates the Mount Arthur coal mine (Mt Arthur Coal Complex), an open-cut coal mine near Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley. As part of its operations, HVEC engages in blasting to clear overburden and access coal reserves.

On 19 February 2014, HVEC fired a blast around the Mt Arthur Coal Complex that resulted in a number of nearby workers suffering temporary health problems, such as sore and dry throats, and sore and watery eyes. The incident was primarily caused by the presence of water in the blast holes and inadequate measuring of short-term wind direction.

Judgment

On 30 July 2015, the NSW Land and Environment Court made an environmental service order that required HVEC to pay $58,500 to Muswellbrook Shire Council. The Court also ordered HVEC to pay the Environmental Protection Authority’s legal costs.

In arriving at this decision, the Court considered the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (NSW). The amount that HVEC was fined served as a penalty for an offence under that Act and as a general deterrent against environmental offences.

Lessons

This case shows that businesses that engage in high-risk activities, including blasting, need to be strongly aware of the ramifications and potential impact on nearby workers and the environment. Therefore, it is essential that further supervision of these high-risk activities is undertaken to make sure these procedures are being followed correctly.

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