At th BHP Billiton Limited AGM in Brisbane this Thursday, dissident shareholders will challenge the company’s board over its response to the Samarco tailings dam disaster. The AGM is being held twelve months on from the disastrous collapse of the Fundão mining waste (‘tailings’) dam at the Samarco iron ore mine in Minas Gerais, Brazil, which is 50-50 owned by BHP Billiton and Brazilian mining giant Vale.
“The dam break led to the destruction of all forms of life in the region. Mud covered everything, resulting in 20 deaths and unmeasurable environmental destruction. We have seen whole communities destroyed by BHP Billiton and Vale’s operations. They have lost everything, without receiving any real compensation. Instead of reparations for the victims, what is becoming evident is the blatant corporate capture of our government by transnational companies”, said Rodrigo de Castro Amédée Péret, of the Churches and Mining Network in Latin America who attended the BHP Billiton London AGM.
The collapsed waste dam killed twenty people , left 700 people homeless and polluted hundreds of kilometres of the Rio Doce river valley. Following the 5 November, 2015 disaster, MAB (People Affected by Dams), a coalition of local communities impacted by Brazil’s thousands of dam projects, made four key demands of Samarco and parent companies BHP Billiton and Vale .
Natalie Lowrey, of Australia’s Mineral Policy Institute, said, “BHP Billiton and its associates at Samarco are ignoring those most affected – the people whose lives and livelihoods have been devastated by last year’s tailings dam collapse. The demands being made by MAB, the social movement of people affected by dams, should be accepted. People want meaningful participation in decision-making about the clean-up and compensation, and for everyone who has been affected to be recognised – the companies shouldn’t be picking and choosing who gets help.”
Representatives of communities impacted by the broken dam disaster reiterated these demands at BHP Billiton’s London AGM on 20 October 2016 . They were unsatisfied with the company’s responses. A panel of inquiry was set up to assess the cause of the waste dam collapse without attributing blame, they released a report in August 2016 .
Richard Harkinson, of London Mining Network, said, “BHP Billiton appears to be leading on international lobbying for the industry’s ‘learning lessons’ without regulatory change. The panel’s report  questioned the efficacy of changes in waste dam design and the sequence of its modifications, and poor management particularly throughout 2011-12, whereby the bases for failure were established through failure and compounded through avoiding good practice.”
On the day of the company’s London AGM, the Brazilian prosecutor’s office charged 26 people for their alleged roles in the disaster, 21 for qualified homicide. This included BHP Billiton and Vale executives on the Samarco board, including a minority who have now left . London Mining Network and the Mineral Policy Institute welcomed this development as a step towards justice .
Notes Continue reading
None of these decisions would have been possible without the groups’ standing under Section 487 of the EPBC Act. Removing these provisions undermines the foundational objectives of Australia’s national environmental act at a time when its protective capabilities are needed most.
Turnbull wants to change Australia’s environment act – here’s what we stand to lose, The Conversation, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University October 31, 2016 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is seeking changes to Australia’s national environment act to stop conservation groups from challenging ministerial decisions on major resource developments and other matters of environmental importance.
Turnbull is reviving a bid made by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott to abolish Section 487 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) – a bid rejected in the Senate in 2015. If it goes ahead, the change will significantly diminish the functionality of the act.
The EPBC Act, introduced by the Howard government in 1999, has an established record of success. Judicial oversight of ministerial discretion, enabled by expanded standing under Section 487, has been crucial to its success.
Section 487 allows individuals and groups to challenge ministerial decisions on resources, developments and other issues under the EPBC Act. An organisation can establish standing by showing they have engaged in activities for the “protection or conservation of, or research into, the environment” within the previous two years. They must also show that their purpose is environmental protection.
Repealing this provision would remove the standing of these groups to seek judicial review of decisions. Standing would then revert to the common law position. That means parties would need to prove they are a “person aggrieved” by showing that their interests have been impacted directly.
Many environmental groups will be unable to satisfy the common law test, leaving a very small group of people with the right to request judicial review – essentially, the right to check that federal ministerial power under the EPBC Act has been exercised properly.
This is likely to have a devastating impact on fragile ecological systems and biodiversity conservation strategies.
This is particularly concerning given the dramatic changes affecting the environment from the expansion of onshore resource development and the acceleration of climate change.
Why do we have the EPBC Act?
The groups are calling for a new generation of environmental laws that protect critical habitats for threatened species, that halt projects until information about the scale of the impacts is known, and that explicitly deal with impacts on the climate.
They have also called for laws that allow environmental approvals to be challenged in court on their merits. Currently, they can only be challenged by claiming the minister didn’t follow the correct legal processes.
Adani’s Carmichael coalmine proves environment laws ‘too weak’ – report
No consequences for the company if its mine causes greater environmental damage to threatened habitats than expected, says study, Guardian, Michael Slezak, 12 Sept 16, Australia’s environmental laws are too weak, a new report argues, citing the Carmichael coalmine as an example. Even what the environment minister has described as the “strictest” environmental conditions on the development allow the destruction of endangered species habitats, the degradation of ecologically and culturally significant water bodies, as well as the production of fossil fuels for burning, it says.
When the federal environment minister gave the most recent approval for Adani’s huge coalmine in 2014, he said it was done on the basis of “36 of the strictest conditions in Australian history”.
Taking those conditions as the “high-water mark” for environmental protections offered by current laws, a report by the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Environmental Defenders Office of Australia examined whether they protected the environment in the way they were intended to. Continue reading
ERA, controlled by Rio Tinto, stopped mining new ore in 2012. Since then, it has been extracting ore – totalling about 2000 tonnes a year – from tailings at a rate that leaves 999 tonnes of waste for every uranium tonne produced.
Under federal statutes, the millions of tonnes of waste rock and billions of litres of water must be stored so “radiological material is separated from the environment for 10,000 years”, Mr O’Brien said.
“All that contaminated matter … all the buildings, the mill, the power plant, all the machinery, all the trucks – everything – has to be put into pits.”
Lone Ranger: Kakadu uranium miner faces fewer safety checks, The Age, Peter Hannam, 30 Aug 16 The controversial Ranger uranium mine in the Top End has had its independent government oversight depleted just years before its closure in a move the local Aboriginal organisation describes as “absurd”.
Since December, the Supervising Scientist Branch – the agency under the federal environment department enforcing standards at the giant mine – has halted atmospheric testing of radon and other radioactive dust from the project owned by Energy Resources of Australia.
Neither has the SSB’s environmental research institute – known as ERISS – tested a range of foods including fish and wallaby eaten by the nearby traditional owners, the Mirarr people, since 2011, according to one insider. Continue reading
Victorian unconventional gas exploration ban to end fracking and CSG extraction, ABC News, 30 Aug 16 The Victorian Government is introducing legislation to permanently ban exploration and development of unconventional gas in the state, including coal seam gas and fracking.
- Legislation will permanently ban development, production of all unconventional gas in Victoria
- Moratorium on conventional gas extraction to be extended until 2020
- Government says ban will protect Victoria’s agriculture sector
The legislation — the first of its kind in Australia — will be introduced into State Parliament later this year.
Premier Daniel Andrew said the ban would protect the reputation of Victoria’s agriculture sector and alleviate farmers’ concerns about environmental and health risks associated with hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.
“We’ve listened to the community and we’re making a decision that puts farmers and our clean, green brand first,” he said.
The legislation will also extend the moratorium on conventional onshore gas until 2020, but offshore gas exploration and development will continue.
The Government said the decision, which responds to a parliamentary inquiry, acknowledged the risks involved outweighed any potential benefits……..http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-30/victoria-to-ban-csg-fracking-and-unconventional-gas-exploration/7796944
Cameco’s Yeerrilie uranium mine proposal knocked back in WA Goldfields http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-03/uranium-mine-proposal-knocked-back-in-wa/7685538 Western Australia’s environmental watchdog has knocked back a proposed uranium mine in the state’s Goldfields, at the site of Australia’s largest uranium deposit.The Environmental Protection Agency said Cameco Australia’s Yeelirrie Uranium project could not meet one of the nine key environmental factors.
The Canadian company sought to mine up to 7,500 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate per year from the Yeelirrie deposit, about 420 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie-Boulder and 70km south-west of Wiluna.
The facility was to include two open pits, processing facilities, roads, accommodation, stockpile and laydown areas.
It would have transported the uranium oxide by road for export through the Port of Adelaide.
The authority’s chairman, Dr Tom Hatton, said the assessment process was extensive and involved public consultation and a site visit. He said the proposal would threaten more than 70 species of underground fauna, known as “stygofauna”.
The proposal had attracted protests, including from traditional owner Kado Muir, who argued there was no broad community support for uranium mining in Western Australia.
The EPA put the proposal up for public comment for 12 weeks, attracting 169 responses and a further 2,946 pro forma submissions.
The EPA gave a proposal for Western Australia’s first uranium mine the green light in 2012, the first to be approved since the lifting of a state ban on uranium mining in 2008. But the project, put forward by South Australian mining company Toro Energy, has stalled on the back of falling demand and global prices for the commodity.
For the environment, the risks are clear, the Mary Kathleen uranium mine, once controlled by Rio, was rehabilitated and relinquished in 1986, winning an award for technical excellence at the time. The waste dump has since failed and the liability and attendant costs now reside with Queensland taxpayers.
Mary Kathleen, whose AFL side once won three regional premierships, is now a ghost town. Radioactive waste has seeped into the water systems.
Taxpayers to foot the bill for mine closures, Independent Australia 26 July 2016 Mine rehabilitation – to avoid toxic seepage – is a costly business which taxpayers look likely to fund, writes Michael West.
MINING COMPANIES and regulators have gravely underestimated the costs of mine rehabilitation, leaving taxpayers in the gun for billions of dollars in clean-up costs, says Rick Humphries.
He should know. Humphries was Rio Tinto’s top adviser on land use before heading up mine rehabilitation for base metals groupMMG.
The environmental scientist has since “switched sides” to consult for conservation groups on mine closure.
Humphries told us in an interview last week:
“The problem is there is a very large and growing environmental liability and if it’s not put in check it will cost taxpayers dearly, and result in large scale degradation of national resources.”
There are some 50,000 abandoned mine sites in Australia. Many are small and old. Others though, such as Century Zinc Mine, Ranger Uranium and the first of the mega coal mines to close – Anglo American’s Drayton and Rio Tinto’s Blair Athol – are large, toxic and present a formidable challenge to close properly.
The humongous Ranger and Century open cut voids alone, will cost around $750 million to $1 billion to rehabilitate and the residual risks and liabilities for their parent companies (Rio Tinto and MMG) are as yet unknown. Continue reading
Indigenous rangers play a silent and undervalued role as leaders and educators in their communities, role models for how to progress in both worlds. It’s important to provide local, challenging, culturally relevant, real jobs to keep these leaders embedded within the fabric of their families and communities.
They need a commitment beyond 2018 that their real jobs will still exist.
[The video below does not apply to The Numbulwar ranger group, but still gives an example of the kind of work that they do]
Queensland Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger Program
As well as protecting the land, Indigenous rangers play an undervalued role as leaders in their communities. It’s never been more important to protect these jobs. Many conservative politicians and commentators argue Indigenous ranger jobs are not “real jobs”. This is perfectly illustrated by the recentleaking to Crikey of a secret federal Coalition government plan to radically change this successful Indigenous ranger program in order to “get participants into employment”. While the minister for Indigenous affairs, Nigel Scullion has denied he is planning an overhaul of the program, his government has not made a commitment to fund the program beyond 2018.
This question of whether ranger jobs are “real jobs” can easily be put to rest.
The Numbulwar ranger group in Arnhem Land was re-established in November 2015, Continue reading
Australia ranks 20th on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, The Conversation, John Thwaites July 21, 2016 Australia may be home to some of the world’s most liveable cities, but we have a long way to go to meet the world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Australia ranks 20th in the world – well behind Canada and many European countries but ahead of the United States – according to a new index that compares different nations’ performance on the SDGs, which were adopted last September.
Launched at this week’s United Nations SDG talks in New York, the index marks each country’s performance towards the 17 goals. These aim to put the world on a more sustainable economic, social and environmental path, and feature 169 targets to be met over the next 15 years in areas such as health, economic growth and climate action.
The ranking, called the SDG Index and Dashboard and prepared by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the German think tank Bertelsmann Stiftung, ranks countries’ performance using a set of 77 indicators.
Australia: good water, bad energy
Australia, with some of the world’s highest carbon emissions per person, rates poorly on the clean energy and climate change goals. It also falls down on the environmental goals, with high levels of solid waste and land clearing as well as loss of biodiversity…….
The SDG Index will be updated regularly to improve its quality and coverage and allow people around the world to measure progress against the goals. Australia’s plan for implementing the SDGs within Australia is not yet clear and this will be an important item on the agenda for the re-elected Turnbull government. https://theconversation.com/australia-ranks-20th-on-progress-towards-the-sustainable-development-goals-62820
Nectaria Calan 6 July Arabunna elder Uncle Kevin Buzzacott has invited participants at the Lizard Bites Back to visit his country today, to witness firsthand the impacts of BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam mine on the mound springs in the Lake Eyre region. The mound springs are integral to the desert ecosystem and sacred to the Arabunna people, and are threatened by the 37 million litres of water per day that the mine uses from the Great Artesian Basin, which feeds the mound springs.
The Lizard Bites Back has attracted over 300 people from around the country, converging near the mine gates for a weekend of direct action, workshops on nuclear issues, and music. After two days of workshops and marches to the gates of the mine, the last day of the convergence saw nearly one hundred activists block the main road to the mine for eighteen hours. Riot police were sent in at midnight. On their way, riot police approached base camp, in what appeared to be a simulated raid.
“They approached camp in formation at midnight, shouting at people to get out of their tents,” said Nectaria Calan, co-organiser of the Lizard Bites Back. “Then, for no apparent reason, they retreated. Trying to terrorise people at a non-violent protest camp was a low move, but in line with the police’s behaviour all weekend,” continued Ms Calan. “They have spent the weekend defecting cars and trying to deter people from attending the event by telling them that the public land we are camped on is owned by BHP Billiton. They have also prevented mine workers from visiting the camp. Although they have been lodged for the weekend by the company’s accommodation, they should remember that they do not actually work for BHP.”
“Despite the petty dishonesty of the police and the ongoing abuse of their powers, hundreds of people had the opportunity to sit on country and learn about the risks and impact of the nuclear industry, and disrupt the normal operations of a mine that will leave millions of tonnes of tailings that will remain radioactive for several hundred thousand years.”
“With South Australia facing two proposals for nuclear waste dumps, The Lizard Bites back has also aimed to raise awareness about the connections between uranium mining and nuclear waste,” said Ms Calan. “A responsible approach to managing nuclear waste would begin with stopping its production.”
Co-organiser Izzy Brown said, “Until we stop mining this metal that we have no idea how to dispose of safely, we will keep returning to remind BHP Billiton and the government that the intergenerational health and environmental impacts of this industry are more important than money.”
Many participants have called for another convergence next year.
“After this weekend, this is the most optimistic I’ve ever felt since Western Mining Corporation started digging up the old country. This industry is a house of cards,” said Uncle Kevin.
“This place has a long history of struggle, and we will continue to struggle to honour the sacrifices made by the elders that struggled before us, that may still be with us if this mine was not established. We need to say sorry to the old country and begin healing this land.”
Climate scientists: Australian uranium mining pollutes Antarctic http://phys.org/news/2016-06-climate-scientists-australian-uranium-pollutes.html June 30, 2016 by Beth Staples Uranium mining in Australia is polluting the Antarctic, about 6,000 nautical miles away. University of Maine climate scientists made the discovery during the first high-resolution continuous examination of a northern Antarctic Peninsula ice core.
Ice core data reveal a significant increase in uranium concentration that coincides with open pit mining in the Southern Hemisphere, most notably Australia, says lead researcher Mariusz Potocki, a doctoral candidate and research assistant with the Climate Change Institute.
“The Southern Hemisphere is impacted by human activities more than we thought,” says Potocki.
Understanding airborne distribution of uranium is important because exposure to the radioactive element can result in kidney toxicity, genetic mutations, mental development challenges and cancer.
Uranium concentrations in the ice core increased by as much as 102 between the 1980s and 2000s, accompanied by increased variability in recent years, says Potocki, a glaciochemist.
Until World War II, most of the uranium input to the atmosphere was from natural sources, says the research team.
But since 1945, increases in Southern Hemisphere uranium levels have been attributed to industrial sources, including uranium mining in Australia, South Africa and Namibia. Since other land-source dust elements don’t show similar large increases in the ice core, and since the increased uranium concentrations are enriched above levels in the Earth’s crust, the source of uranium is attributed to human activities rather atmospheric circulation changes.
In 2007, a Brazilian-Chilean-U.S. team retrieved the ice core from the Detroit Plateau on the northern Antarctic Peninsula, which is one of the most rapidly changing regions on Earth.
More information: Mariusz Potocki et al. Recent increase in Antarctic Peninsula ice core uranium concentrations, Atmospheric Environment (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2016.06.010 Journal reference:Atmospheric Environment Provided by: University of Maine
The following statement is from our client
Whitsunday Residents Against Dumping (WRAD):
http://www.edoqld.org.au/news/wrad-media-release-whitsunday-residents-take-expansion-of-abbot-point-terminal-to-court/ 24 June 2016:
“Local community group, Whitsunday Residents Against Dumping,
which aims to protect the Great Barrier Reef from damage,
is asking the QLD Supreme Court to scrutinise whether the QLD Department of Environment
properly considered legislative tests when granting authority for
Adani’s controversial Abbot Point Terminal 0 expansion to go ahead.
The first directions hearing is taking place today in the Queensland Supreme Court.
Local grandmother, former tourism worker and spokesperson for Whitsunday Residents Against Dumping, Sandra Williams said,
“Our precious Great Barrier Reef is already in poor health, and Adani’s controversial port project,
which will cause irreparable damage, has raised significant concern in our community.
“Residents in our group have never taken legal action before,
but we were forced to because of our worry that the approval of the port expansion,
which will require damaging dredging and see hundreds of extra ships through the Reef each year, was not lawful.
“There is a question mark over whether the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection
properly assessed the project, as required by law, before it gave this billion dollar proposal the green light.
“It is critically important that the decision, which has such grave implications for the Reef, is properly scrutinised. … ”
To continue reading the full statement, click on this link:
This week the Greens announced an ambitious policy for new national environment laws and an independent body to oversee and enforce them. The Greens’ policy on environmental democracy and its commitment to resource Environmental Defenders Officers would enable communities to hold government decision makers to account based on the merits of their decisions.
The truth is Australia’s nature protection laws are not adequately protecting our air, water, wildlife and places we love. The laws that protect nature are the foundations of a thriving Australia, but it’s clear they are not strong enough to keep the places we love safe and healthy.
The environment is not merely a matter for state governments http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2016/06/08/comment-environment-not-merely-matter-state-governments Why is the federal government so keen to give up national oversight of the environment, asks James Trezise. In regional Australia, coal mining and coal seam gas have altered landscapes forever, polluted water supplies and divided communities.
This came into sharp focus on Monday night’s Q&A program – shot in front of a live audience in Tamworth, NSW – where national environment laws came bursting right into the election frame.
From the get-go Barnaby Joyce was pegged down by a ropable community in Tamworth, frustrated at government failure to protect their farms and water supplies from invasive mining projects.
The Deputy Prime Minister tried to crab walk away from the awkward reality that his government approved the development of the Shenhua coal mine, a highly unpopular proposal at the edge of his New England electorate.
The crowd was unimpressed by Mr Joyce’s attempts to downplay the federal government’s ability to influence decisions on the environment. He claimed the states had all the power.
Former longstanding New England MP Tony Windsor appeared to be the local favourite on the night.
In 2013 Mr Windsor played a key role in having a “Water Trigger” added to our national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The rationale for the legislative change was that state government had not been sufficiently protecting groundwater resources. This has been clear for all to see at Chinchilla, where groundwater has been polluted by an experimental underground coal gasification project.
Three decades prior to the introduction of the water trigger the federal government’s role in protecting Australia’s environment was cemented by the historic Franklin Dam case. Continue reading
Rum Jungle uranium mine in NT polluting environment 45 years after closure, ABC Radio The World Today By Sara Everingham Traditional owner Kathy Mills finds every visit to site of the old Rum Jungle uranium mine upsetting.
The site, 100 kilometres south of Darwin, is overrun with scrubby weeds, there are two abandoned mining pits, large mounds of waste rock and the water in a diverted channel of the Finniss River is tinged orange and brown from contamination.
But the great-grandmother wants to show people around in the hope it will help her family’s long battle to have the site rehabilitated.
“It has just been lingering on and on and on and many of my people have passed on and I am almost the last man standing in that people who fought for recognition of this land,” she said.
Ms Mills wants the Commonwealth to “hurry up” and rehabilitate the Rum Jungle mine — a Commonwealth-backed venture that produced uranium for the nuclear weapons programs of the US and British governments.
The mine closed 45 years ago but acid and metals are draining into the environment and the site remains off limits to the public including traditional owners.
This month’s federal budget had $11 million for the NT Government to put the finishing touches on a plan for rehabilitation.
Ms Mills said she was running out of time to see Rum Jungle fixed.
Mine took away ‘aspect of land’s importance’
When Rum Jungle was developed traditional owners had no say in it.
One mining pit was dug into a sacred women’s site on the east branch of the Finniss River and the flow of the river was diverted for one kilometre. Ms Mills vividly remembers the anger of one of her older relatives when he saw for the first time how the mine had transformed the land.
“It took away the whole aspect of the importance of that land,” she said.
But in the early 1950s the Commonwealth saw uranium as an opportunity to develop the north.
At the time, Rum Jungle was a major industrial development in northern Australia.
The then prime minister Robert Menzies came to the Top End to open it.
Notorious for environmental problems
When mining finished at Rum Jungle in 1971, no rehabilitation was done and the site became notorious for its environmental problems.
In the early 1980s, the Rum Jungle site could not be handed over to traditional owners as part of the successful Finniss River Land claim in case they became liable for the environmental problems.
The Commonwealth spent $18 million on rehabilitation in the 1980s but some of the work did not last.
At Rum Jungle, scientists from the NT Government are monitoring contamination in the Finniss River…….http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-30/rum-jungle-uranium-mine-in-nt-polluting-environment-45-years-on/7460666
Air pollution increases 69 per cent as coal named top polluter, SMH, Josh DyeApril 18, 2016 Air quality across Australia has deteriorated to alarming levels with the coal industry the nation’s worst polluter, new data has shown.
The most concerning rise in air pollution is from PM10, a coarse pollution particle about the width of a human hair. Nationally, total PM10 emissions have increased 69 per cent in one year, and 194 per cent in five years.
The figures come from the National Pollutant Inventory’s 2014-15 report which collects information about toxic pollution. Non-profit legal practice Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) spent the weekend analysing the figures, which were released on Friday.
EJA researcher Dr James Whelan said the findings raise serious questions about the future of Australia’s air quality and called for tougher federal government regulation, an urgent transition from coal to renewable energy, and a National Air Pollution Control Act.
“Watching the continuing escalation of air pollution across Australia, particularly from coal mines and coal-fired power stations, is like seeing a car speed faster and faster with no police response.”
Air pollution kills more than 3000 people in Australian every year, almost three times the annual road toll, and costs the nation more than $24 billion in health care costs each year.
Dr Whelan said reducing particle pollution is critical to avoiding a public health crisis in mining areas.
“Particle pollution accounts for more than 90 per cent of the total health impacts of air pollution in general.”
Dr Whelan said just like smoking, there is no safe level of particle pollution. ……..http://www.smh.com.au/environment/air-pollution-increases-69-per-cent-as-coal-named-top-polluter-20160417-go8b82.html