The ruling upheld a previous Supreme Court dismissal that the environmental impacts would exceed benefits to the small nearby community of Bulga, 110 miles north of Sydney. Despite prolific reserves, the country faces competition from neighbors including Indonesia, which mines 400 million tons of coal annually compared with Australia’s 420 million.
Managing Director of Rio Tinto Coal’s and Allied unit Chris Salisbury said the battle, led by environmental legal group EDO, culminated in 1 million tons of lost production for 2014; 2015 losses, however, remain undetermined as company officials prepare to restart the approval process for the project in the coal-rich Hunter Valley, New South Wales.
Under its revised plan, Rio Tinto will offer to establish more than 1,800 hectares of land for a National Park while funding $8.37 million in woodland and employment programs. “We are pushing forward with a significantly enhanced plan,” Salisbury said, as quoted by Reuters. Environmental groups argued it would create noise and dust problems for nearby residents.
Given the collapsing demand within the sector, meanwhile, “time is of the essence to ensure the mine remains viable,” he added, noting the mine can only maintain production and employment through Q4 2015, jeopardizing 1,300 jobs.
Coal prices are down almost 70% from all-time 2008 highs, as analysts forecast continued drops in demand buttressed by gradual reductions in steelmaking and increases in shale gas usage for electricity.