Environmental Protection Agency will assess Alcoa’s bauxite mining at Huntly and Willowdale mines in Darling Range

Environmental Protection Agency will assess Alcoa’s bauxite mining at Huntly and Willowdale mines in Darling Range
  • PublishedDecember 18, 2023

The review will shine a spotlight on Alcoa’s Huntly and Willowdale operations south of Perth in the Darling Range — and will be the first time Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has undertaken a public study of the area.

In the past, Alcoa’s yearly environmental management plans have been dealt with by the state government behind closed doors.

The mining company has been under fire recently, after the WA Government ordered the company to better protect Perth’s nearby supply of drinking water — and conservationists raised concerns about the impact of clearing in the state’s jarrah forest.

There were more than 2,500 public submissions to the EPA, which chairman Matthew Tonts said ‘overwhelmingly’ called for the company’s operations to be formally assessed.

An aerial shot of a sprawling mine in a forest
The Alcoa Huntly bauxite mine is the world’s second largest bauxite mine.(Supplied: Landgate)

Mr Tonts said the review would look at several concerns, including impacts on animals in the area.

“The jarrah forest is a really important eco system … so we’re particularly interested in better understanding the impacts of vegetation clearing and what that means for fauna,” he said.

“We’re also really interested in waterways as well and what the implications are for streams and catchments, particularly given the proximity of these activities to drinking water catchments.”

A man in a suit looking into the camera in an office.
Chair of the WA Environmental Protection Authority, Professor Matthew Tonts.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

“Anything that interferes with waterways and particularly catchments warrants serious attention.

“There are already protections in place around that but we are keen to better understand what future activities mean for those catchments.”

“Our interest here is in a rigorous assessment and one that leads to conditions on the proponent that are meaningful and can be complied with.”

The review process is likely to take about two years to complete.

No impact on Alcoa’s operations

Generally, under the Environmental Protection Act, the EPA’s decision to look at the plans would mean Alcoa would need to immediately stop all mining activity in the area.

However, late last week the WA government intervened to allow Alcoa to keep operating while the review is underway — citing the thousands of jobs that would be at risk if mining stopped.

WA Forest Alliance Convener Jess Beckerling welcomed the announcement but had concerns about the timeline.

“I think the EPA has made the right decision, absolutely. It needs to be assessed” she said.

jess Beckerling
Jess Beckerling says the ban was inevitable.(Suuplied: Jess Beckerling)

“The problem is the assessment might take two years or more to be conducted and in that time we’re likely to see up to two thousand hectares of highly biodiverse jarrah forest cleared by the proponent.”

“It should be good news, it should be a major breakthrough but because the Cook government has handed Alcoa this free pass, it just puts everyone in a really absurd position.”

She said the area was home to so many special creatures.

“We’re talking about the Carnaby’s and the red tailed and Baudin cockatoos, mainland quokkas, chuditch, woylies, phascogales, mammals and birds that live here in WA and that live nowhere else on earth whose habitat has been completely obliterated by bauxite mining.”

The WA government has been contacted for comment.

$100 million guarantee on Perth’s water

In granting its exemption to Alcoa last week, the government outlined extra conditions for the mining giant — including getting expert hydrology input and an 800-hectare cap on yearly clearing approvals.

It also ordered Alcoa to commit to a $100 million dollar guarantee in the ‘unlikely’ event there was an impact on Perth’s drinking water.

In a statement, Alcoa agreed to the state’s conditions and said it would work with the EPA on its environmental impact study.

“We will engage with the EPA to understand the assessment scope and process,” a company spokesman said.

“We believe the state government’s recent decision to grant an exemption allowing these operations to continue, under stringent conditions, while the assessment is undertaken strikes a balance between protecting jobs and investment while enhancing environmental protections.”

“We are committed to enhancing the way we operate to meet stringent conditions associated with this exemption and our new mine plan, existing operating requirements, and evolving community expectations.”

SOURCE: ABCNEWS

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