MAC: Mines and Communities

Rio Tinto in the dock on environment and human rights

Published by MAC on 2013-04-22
Source: Guardian

See also reports on the 2013 Rio Tinto AGM at: London Calling sees the Grey Man Cometh

Rio Tinto accused of environmental and human rights breaches

Rupert Neate


18 April 2013

Protesters from around the world attacked mining company Rio Tinto for a string for alleged environmental and human rights breaches during a fiery meeting with shareholders in London on Thursday.

Native Mongolian herders claimed that a $5bn (£3.3bn) expansion of the company's Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine in the Gobi desert threatened the fresh water supply of hundreds of nomadic people and the area's unique ecology.

Sukhgerel Dugersuren, executive director of Mongolian civil society organisation Oyu Tolgoi Watch, said: "Water is a life and death resource. Rio Tinto is diverting water without the consent of the local community or the government.

"It is already evident that not only livestock but local communities are losing access to adequate water supply. Pasture ... [and] water resources are being taken from us and fenced in by the mine."

She claimed that a tailings pond used to collect waste material from the mine had leaked and told Rio's board that the local community demanded assurances that "there isn't going to be a catastrophe in the region".

Sam Walsh, Rio's new chief executive, said the company was committed to environmental protection and human rights and was closely monitoring the mine's development to "ensure our neighbours have a healthy and prosperous future".

At the company's annual meeting, Walsh said Rio recognised the importance of water and would draw water from a deep level aquifer, not from surface water. He said a seasonal river was being diverted around the mine, but the company would create a new spring for animal grazing and water collection further downstream.

Walsh said the mine, which is 34%-owned by the Mongolian government, would provide a massive boost to the local economy and could represent up to 36% of Mongolia's GDP.

Protesters also raised concerns about Rio's planned mines in Bristol Bay, Alaska, a controversial iron ore mine in Guinea, and a nickel and copper mine in Michigan.

Tiny Bulga wins day against mining Goliath

Ben Cubby, Sam Rigney

Sydney Morning Herald

16 April 2013

The tiny New South Wales town of Bulga has won a three-year battle against mining giant Rio Tinto when a court overturned a state government-endorsed decision to allow it to dig an open-cut coalmine next to the town.

A Rio Tinto subsidiary, Coal & Allied, had been granted approval to mine bushland next to the town which had been created as an ''offset'' a decade ago. It was to have created 150 mining jobs and extracted 18 million tonnes of coal a year, in the community of 300 people.

In a scathing judgment, Justice Brian Preston, chief judge of the Land and Environment Court, criticised the government's approval of the proposed Warkworth mine in the Hunter Valley, which he said could damage Bulga's ''sense of place''.

Planning Minister Brad Hazzard said he was seeking legal advice on what action might be available to the government. Rio Tinto said the community's ability to challenge the government's decision was ''significantly obstructing investment and job creation in NSW''.

The challenge was brought by the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association, representing the views of most of the town's residents, with help from the Environmental Defender's Office of NSW.

The publican at Bulga's only hotel said she awoke on Monday to a text message that read: ''Bulga is safe''.

Margueritte Hannaberry, who owns the Cockfighter Creek Tavern on Putty Road with partner Paul Burgess, said the pub was in the acquisition zone for the proposed mine, meaning it would have to have been sold.

''Everyone on the progress association is over the moon. It's a massive relief,'' she said. ''We've got a lot of happy people who were born and bred in Bulga.''

Mr Burgess said the mine would have destroyed the town. ''The town would have been fairly uninhabitable anyway, cut off from Jerrys Plains and Denman and really a shell of itself.''

In his judgment Justice Preston said he was not persuaded by the economic analysis offered by the company. ''The project's impacts would exacerbate the loss of sense of place, and materially and adversely change the sense of community, of the residents of Bulga and the surrounding countryside,'' he said. ''I am not satisfied that the economic analyses relied on by Warkworth and the minister have addressed these environmental and social factors adequately.''

The mine would have had ''significant and unacceptable'' effects on plants and animals, and would generate serious levels of dust and noise, the judgment said.

It was to have removed a nearby ridge, wiping out a quarter of the remaining Warkworth Sands Woodland, a refuge for endangered plants and animals.

The acting managing director of Coal & Allied, Darren Yates, said in a statement: "The fact it has now taken 3½ years to get an outcome on this project - and that it can be overturned notwithstanding a rigorous government process - shows that the planning system is failing to deliver timely and predictable outcomes.

''This outcome is a blow to our plans for the Mount Thorley Warkworth mine and the jobs of the 1300 people who work there, at a time when the Australian coal industry is struggling to remain globally competitive.'' The new mine, which would have added to Coal & Allied's existing operation in the area, would have created 150 more permanent jobs, the company said.

The mine was approved in February last year after being considered by the NSW Planning Commission and the NSW Environment Protection Authority.

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