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

One of the world's largest bauxite mines in Weipa, Cape York, Australia

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

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

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:

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.

"This is yet another decision that risks turning the World Heritage Area into a shipping superhighway."
-Felicity Wishart, Australian Marine Conservation Society
"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."


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