Whitehaven Coal cops 'paltry' fine for exceeding coal limit

Profitable breach: The Boggabri coalmine in northern NSW where Whitehaven Coal produced excess coal that could earn it about $10 million. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
Profitable breach: The Boggabri coalmine in northern NSW where Whitehaven Coal produced excess coal that could earn it about $10 million. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
Profitable breach: The Boggabri coalmine in northern NSW where Whitehaven Coal produced excess coal that could earn it about $10 million. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

Profitable breach: The Boggabri coalmine in northern NSW where Whitehaven Coal produced excess coal that could earn it about $10 million. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

Profitable breach: The Boggabri coalmine in northern NSW where Whitehaven Coal produced excess coal that could earn it about $10 million. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

Profitable breach: The Boggabri coalmine in northern NSW where Whitehaven Coal produced excess coal that could earn it about $10 million. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

Profitable breach: The Boggabri coalmine in northern NSW where Whitehaven Coal produced excess coal that could earn it about $10 million. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

Profitable breach: The Boggabri coalmine in northern NSW where Whitehaven Coal produced excess coal that could earn it about $10 million. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

A coal miner in northern NSW has copped a fine of just 9 cents a tonne for exceeding its coal mining licence – or not far short of one-thousandth the sales value of the extra production.

Whitehaven Coal, which manages the Tarrawonga project near Boggabri, was found by the NSW Environment Protection Agency to have breached its annual 2 million-tonne limit for coal output by 136,045 tonnes in the 2013-14 financial year.

"Licence conditions are put in place for an important reason - to ensure the activities of industry, including coalmining, do not adversely impact on the health of the community and the environment," Simon Smith, EPA regional manager, said in a media release.

Mr Smith added that the EPA is "not aware of any environmental impacts as a result of the increased production".

Failure to comply with all licence conditions means the company will be fined $15,000 under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act.

With the price of thermal coal at about $82 a tonne, the 136,000 extra tonnes of production is worth in the order of $10 million, and would have collected an even higher price in 2013-14.

Greens NSW mining spokesman Jeremy Buckingham said the fine was "paltry" given the size of the extra revenue.

"It's in their interests to cop the fine and keep on mining," Mr Buckingham told Fairfax Media. "When it comes to environmental regulation, the fines are pathetic."

He said fishers who took an extra 135 abalone would be up for fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, with equipment confiscated and the potential for culprits to go to jail.

"The Minister for the Environment, Rob Stokes, should direct the EPA to start prosecuting breaches rather than issuing tiny fines that these corporations will barely notice," Mr Buckingham said.

Fairfax sought comment from the EPA.

A spokesman for Mr Stokes said the Baird government had recently raised the fines tenfold. "These are the toughest in the country," he said.

This story Whitehaven Coal cops 'paltry' fine for exceeding coal limit first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.