WHITEHAVEN Coal's woes continued on Thursday with the federal government deferring until April a decision on the controversial Maules Creek mine in the New South Wales Gunnedah Basin.
Whitehaven has had a difficult start to the year - a sharemarket hoax, a profit downgrade and strike action scheduled for Friday by members of the Rail Bus and Train Union. The company's shares dropped 17¢ to $3.02.
The proposed Maules Creek open cut is a key growth project for Whitehaven and was approved after a two-year process by the NSW government last August. After being reviewed by the Independent Expert Scientific Committee established at the behest of federal independent MP Tony Windsor, the project awaits federal approval. A decision on expansion of its adjacent Boggabri mine was also deferred.
A statement from the federal Environment Department said because the Maules Creek and Boggabri projects were close together it was "appropriate that their respective impacts are assessed in parallel, to look at their cumulative impacts as a whole".
NSW Energy Minister Chris Hartcher accused the federal government of playing politics, saying "this announcement is all about kicking off Tony Windsor's re-election campaign and shoring up his support in New England."
Managing director Tony Haggarty said Whitehaven was disappointed at the delay and was "not aware of any substantive issues with the environmental evaluations".
The Maules Creek project received notoriety in January when activist Jonathan Moylan issued a fake press release from ANZ purporting to withdraw finance for the project. The hoax temporarily wiped $314 million from the market capitalisation of Whitehaven.