MAC: Mines and Communities

Australia: Mining Project to Unleash 'Environmental Vandalism on a Grand Scale'

Published by MAC on 2013-05-21
Source: Commondreams

Mining Project to Unleash 'Environmental Vandalism on a Grand Scale'

15 May 2013

Australian government's OK to controversial bauxite mining operations will turn "World Heritage Area into a shipping superhighway," say environmental groups
- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

Australia has given a green light to a controversial mining project that opponents have warned will cause "environmental vandalism on a grand scale," and is another sign the government is willing to turn the "World Heritage Area into a shipping superhighway."

Agence France-Presse reports that after more than a year of delays, Environment Minister Tony Burke approved Rio Tinto Alcan's South of Embley bauxite mine and port development in western Cape York, a wilderness area in northeastern Australia.

The Age reports that it will allow Rio's existing bauxite operations near the Gulf of Carpentaria to expand to the south side of the Embley River.

"The conditions I have imposed today will ensure that shipping activity arising from this project does not negatively impact the outstanding universal value of the Great Barrier Reef, and meets the highest international standards in its planning, regulation, assessment and operation," said Burke.

Burke's decision has generated sharp criticism from conservation groups.

"Minister Burke has today given the green light to landscape destruction, land only just formally recognized for its World Heritage-standard values," said Dr. Tim Seelig, Queensland Campaign Manager for the Wilderness Society.

"This mine will result in environmental vandalism on a grand scale." - Dr. Tim Seelig, the Wilderness Society

Seelig's group says that the UK-based mining giant's mine "will wipe out 30,000 hectares of a landscape that a Federal Government-commissioned scientific report has only recently identified as being of World Heritage standard, land that can never be fully rehabilitated."

"This mine will result in environmental vandalism on a grand scale," stated Seelig.

Fight for the Reef, a conservation effort spearheaded by the Australian Marine Conservation Society and WWF-Australia, says that the "extra 900 ship movements criss-crossing our Reef every year" the Rio Tinto project would bring is an environmental disaster waiting to happen.

"One mistake or misadventure from one ship could create lasting damage to the Reef, its precious wildlife and the 60,000 tourism jobs that rely on it," stated Felicity Wishart, Great Barrier Reef Campaign Director at Australian Marine Conservation Society.

"Despite the Minister's conditions which he believes will reduce the impacts to the environment, this is yet another decision that risks turning the World Heritage Area into a shipping superhighway," stated Wishart.

For Seelig, it's another example of corporate profits trumping environmental concerns.

"Mr Burke seems to taken the word of a company that just last year was exposed for having misled him in its original Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by saying that the project would not have any effect on the reef."

"This is just another example of recognised world heritage values being trashed for the sake of a mining boom already coming to the end, and for profits that will largely find their way offshore," stated Seelig.

The Great Barrier Reef is already under assault from warming ocean temperatures, ocean acidification and coal and gas shipping.

And the OK for the bauxite mine comes a week after UNESCO threatened to downgrade the Great Barrier Reef from the World Heritage Site list unless the government provides some guarantees. The Guardian reports:

Chief among these requests is that no more developments are approved along the Queensland coast that would "impact individually or cumulatively" on the reef's remarkable natural heritage.

Rio Tinto has been leaving a trail of evidence that its impacts will be negative, and the mining company was awarded the "Greenwash Gold 2012 Award" for its "operations [that] have failed to provide adequate protection of public health, the environment, workers and human rights."

Australia Moves Toward Cape York World Heritage Nomination

Environmental News Service (ENS)

6 May 2013


CANBERRA, Australia - Parts of Cape York Peninsula, one of the last wilderness areas on Earth, will be nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site by the Australian Government even as the Queensland Government develops a new bauxite mine there.

The Gillard Government would like to submit a nomination for areas of Cape York Peninsula that have potential outstanding universal value and Traditional Owner consent in early 2013.

The next session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee will be held in Cambodia from June 16 to 27.

Although Cape York land is mostly flat, about half is used for grazing cattle, and wildlife is threatened by introduced species and weeds, the large remote peninsula at the tip of the state of Queensland still has undisturbed wooded savannahs, tropical rainforests, spectacular coastal dune fields and natural rivers.

Millions of hectares of Cape York are being returned to traditional owners through Aboriginal title and/or Indigenous Land Use Agreements, creating a mosaic of parks and reserves, protected areas, conservation-managed lands and rivers, and Aboriginal clan estates.

Indigenous people own and manage roughly 25 percent of Cape York Peninsula and make up more than half the population of the region.

Consultation with the Traditional Owners on nomination for World Heritage status has been underway since 2007 and is ongoing. A nomination to include areas of Cape York Peninsula on the World Heritage List will only go ahead with Traditional Owner consent, as community support is important for a successful nomination.

A new report detailing the areas of Cape York Peninsula that may meet World Heritage criteria for outstanding universal value commissioned by the Gillard Government was released on April 26.

Author Dr. Peter Valentine, an associate professor of environmental science at James Cook University in Queensland, specializes in the World Heritage process.

He says Cape York meets many of the World Heritage criteria for listing such as "superlative natural phenomena and areas of exceptional natural beauty" with its "vast area of high integrity diverse ecosystems" and "hundreds of kilometres of undisturbed coastal scenery" among other features.

"Cape York Peninsula's western slopes and plains show that entire landscapes can persist for millions of years," wrote Dr. Valentine, demonstrating that these areas meet the World Heritage criteria for "outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history and geological processes."

Cape York shows the "biological connectivity between Australia and New Guinea that continues to evolve," he wrote, to demonstrate that the peninsula meets the World Heritage criteria of "significant on-going ecological and biological processes."

Cape York also meets the criteria of providing "outstanding examples of the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity," wrote Valentine, pointing to the peninsula's "high species richness for key plant and animal groups; many of which are only known from the Cape York Peninsula."

The Cape's unique species include orchids, grasses, sedges and mangroves, reptiles, amphibians, freshwater fish and butterflies.

"The region's outstanding geological features include the active dune fields of Shelburne Bay and Cape Flattery, the remarkable granite boulder fields of Cape Melville and hundreds of kilometres of undisturbed coastline adjoining the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area," wrote Valentine.

"Cape York Peninsula supports some of the last remaining large areas of savanna in good condition anywhere in the world. The peninsula also includes a large number of
high integrity perennial river catchments and wetland complexes, which represent important seasonal refuges for many northern Australian animal species and
international migratory birds," he wrote.

But Australia's Wilderness Society is warning that resource companies and the Queensland government plan to increase exploitation of Cape York for its deposits of bauxite, an aluminum ore and the main source of aluminum.

"The nomination of the Cape's bauxite landscapes that support stunning tall forests should be especially of concern to companies pushing bauxite developments on the Cape such as Rio Tinto, Cape Alumina, Gulf Alumina, Aust-Pac Capital, Chalco, Rusal and Xstrata," said the environmental group.

Commercial quantities of bauxite were discovered on Aboriginal lands at Weipa in western Cape York in 1955, and Rio Tinto began commercial production in 1964 with 453,365 tonnes of bauxite mined and shipped. By 2012, Rio Tinto Alcan's Weipa operations produced 23.3 million tonnes of bauxite.

Rio Tinto Alcan says vegetation is recovered from the site before it is mined. After removal of the ore the land is recontoured and re-planted with indigenous vegetation. The company's long-term aim is to achieve a ratio of land disturbed to land rehabilitated of 1:1.

In November 2012, the Queensland Government called for expressions of interest to develop another site, the Aurukun deposit on western Cape York.

On April 23, the Queensland Government released a shortlist of five groups to progress to detailed proposals of the Aurukun bauxite resource.

Deputy Premier and the Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning Jeff Seeney said the development of the Aurukun bauxite resource was "essential to the creation of a vibrant economic future for the Aurukun community, native titleholders and all Queenslanders."

World heritage listing brings international recognition and provides protection for the listed cultural and natural heritage values of a place under Australia's national environmental law-the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

World Heritage listing does not prevent communities from continuing their economic development and the tenure of listed areas does not change. Only
activities that are likely to have a significant impact on the listed world heritage values (or other matters of national environmental significance) require referral and approval under the EPBC Act.

Australia now has 19 places on the World Heritage List, including: the Wet Tropics of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef, Purnululu National Park, Lord Howe Island, the Greater Blue Mountains and Kakadu National Park.

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