Clarence Colliery receives EPA’s biggest one-off fine

BLACK ROCK: Coal fine slurry removed from the Wollangambe River. Picture: SUPPLIED.

BLACK ROCK: Coal fine slurry removed from the Wollangambe River. Picture: SUPPLIED.

The Environment Protection Authority says it’s pleased with the $1.05 million penalty handed down on Friday, July 14, to Clarence Colliery, despite pursuing a maximum penalty of $2 million.

The $1.05 million fine handed down by the Land and Environment Court for the offence of leaking substances into the environment is the biggest one-off fine the EPA has procured in the court system. 

“A record fine for the EPA as the largest penalty for a single prosecution,” said a media statement released by the EPA on Friday. 

IN COURT: EPA's legal representatives Eric Bateman and barrister Stephen Rushton SC exit the Land and Environment Court.

IN COURT: EPA's legal representatives Eric Bateman and barrister Stephen Rushton SC exit the Land and Environment Court.

The authority’s CEO and chair Barry Buffier said he was happy with the outcome. 

“The penalty is on top of more than 12 months’ work and $2 million Clarence Colliery paid to clean up the impacts of the incident,” Mr Buffier said.

The court has ordered Centennial Coal, the parent company of the colliery, to fund five programs that will benefit the environment surrounding Lithgow and the Blue Mountains.

Two of the projects are located in the Lithgow region: the weed control and native re-vegetation of Farmers Creek, and the rehabilitation of bush-walking tracks that traverse the Glow Worm Tunnel, Deep Pass and Mt Wilson area. Each project will receive $210,000 in funding from the penalty.

ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFIT: Farmers Creek will benefit from the $1 million penalty.

ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFIT: Farmers Creek will benefit from the $1 million penalty.

The sentencing of Clarence Colliery occurred following an incident in July 2015 where 2000 tonnes of coal fines overflowed from a holding cell at the mine. An unknown amount of fines entered the Wollangambe River, which flows into the Blue Mountains National Park. 

Centennial Coal pleaded guilty to two charges laid by the Environmental Protection Authority and the Environment and Heritage Office.

The EPA prosecuted Clarence with a Tier 1 (the most serious) offence that involves proving the defendant negligently caused a substance to escape in a manner that harms or is likely to harm the environment.

“Clarence Colliery’s management of the storage area was negligent, resulting in significant impacts to the neighbouring environment. Clearly this did not meet the expectations of the EPA or the community and this is demonstrated by today’s judgement,” Mr Buffier said. 

Justice Robson said that the colliery had caused harm to the surrounding environment.

“I find that Clarence Colliery’s conduct caused both substantial actual harm and likely environmental harm and that the areas adversely affected were areas of high environmental and conservation value which were specifically preserved and clearly intended to be relatively free of pollution,” he said. 

However, in his judgement he said that he took into account the colliery’s “contrition”. Centennial Coal spent $2 million cleaning up the coal fines over a year.

“I accept that Clarence Colliery has demonstrated contrition and remorse concerning the offences and has, by its conduct, taken responsibility for its actions and acknowledged the environmental harm caused,” he said. 

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