Australia’s largest copper miner, Copper Harbour, has been slapped with a $300-million fine for damaging an area of the country’s coast, a decision the company called “unjustified”.
The Australian Conservation Foundation said the fine was not justified, noting that it was “clearly an excessive and unjustified penalty” that would have been much more appropriate if the company had “acted responsibly”.
“Copper Harbour should not have to pay so much money just for damaging a single site,” said ACF executive director David LeBlanc.
“The Australian people expect more than a small fraction of the mining industry to be environmentally sound and responsible.”
The fine came after the Federal Court of Australia in February agreed to issue a “notice of application” to the Federal Circuit Court of the Northern Territory, which is responsible for assessing the penalties imposed by the Australian Government under the Clean Water Act.
In February, Copper Harbor announced that it would be closing all mines in Queensland’s copper belt, which covers the northern state’s central coast and its southern parts.
The company has also withdrawn from mining leases in the Pilbara region, which includes the Goldfields and the Mount Isa region.
The closure is due to be implemented by April 30, 2018, but the company has already warned that it will not be able to meet its financial obligations by then.
The Federal Court said in its notice of application that the closure was “due to the closure of all copper mining operations in Queensland in the coming months”.
It also said that the company was required to pay a $1.3-million indemnity for “damages to the environment caused by the mining activities”.
Copper Harbour has argued that it acted responsibly by withdrawing from the Pilbarrin and Pilbara areas and by withdrawing mining leases.
However, in its letter to the court, the company argued that the court had failed to consider the “environmental impacts of the copper mining and copper processing activities”, and that “a large percentage of the area” was “likely to be exposed to dangerous, high-risk environmental conditions”.
The company had argued that mining would be the only way for the company to meet the environmental costs it would incur as a result of the closure.
The mining company’s decision to close down mines in the northern part of the state came after a recent court decision that found that a mine at Tompkins Point had breached the Clean Air Act.
Copper Harbour is based in the Australian Capital Territory, and its operations are primarily located in the Northern Rivers Basin, in the region that covers the Pilbarangga and the Pilbagong Peninsula.
It has operations in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territories.
In September, the court found that Copper Harbour had breached Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) by conducting mining activities in the countrys Pilbara and Pilbagongo regions, which was not “in the public interest”.
It added that the mining operation “caused substantial damage” to “the environment and to the health and welfare of its workers, its customers and communities”.
Copper Harbor has appealed the decision, which the Federal District Court of Western Australia upheld on March 6.
“Coppetown is a beautiful place to live, work and play, and the company’s continued operation in that part of Western Australian has created significant harm to that community,” said the company in its statement to the AP.
“In a democratic society, it is unacceptable that a company like Copper Harbour should be able be able get away with violating the law in order to protect its profits.”
The AP contacted the company for comment.
The Northern Rivers Region, which encompasses the Pilbilbong Peninsula and the Goldfield area, is home to about 40,000 people and is known for its copper production.
The area is also home to copper mines that are located in remote areas of the Pilbelt and Pilbilarra.
“We’re just so pleased that Copper Harbor is finally getting out of that region, but we still have to face the consequences of what they’re doing in the other parts of the world,” said Paul Johnson, the CEO of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ regional environment division.
“There’s still a very significant amount of copper left to mine in other parts, so it’s good to see them being able to get away from that region and focus on areas that are in the local area.”