Whitehaven's Maules Creek faces court challenge

Environmental group mounts case against company and former minister Tony Burke.

Whitehaven Coal Ltd is facing another hurdle to its troubled $767 million Maules Creek open cut coal mine in north west New South Wales, with an environmental activist group launching a Federal Court challenge to the validity of its ministerial development approval.

It comes two weeks after Whitehaven was given the green light for its project, almost three years after it started the approvals process (see Tim Treadgold's Black clouds clear over Whitehaven).

Whitehaven Coal said the Northern Inland Council for the Environment had launched Federal Court proceedings against it and the former Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke over the latter's approval of the project in February.

The group is arguing that the minister "committed errors of law" in granting the approval.

Whitehaven stressed it would stick to its construction timeline and that the court could not rule on whether or not the project should have been approved.

"In this litigation, the Federal Court has jurisdiction to determine whether the Federal Minister committed an error of law in granting the approval," the group said.

"The court does not have the task of determining whether or not the project should be approved."

Whitehaven said if it lost the case it would ask the government to "promptly cure the error, re-determine the application and grant a new approval".

On receiving approval for the project earlier this month, Whitehaven Coal managing director Paul Flynn said the it had " been through one of the most rigorous planning approvals processes ever undertaken by a mine in NSW and has been reviewed by a wide range of highly regarded environmental experts".

Production for Maules Creek has been capped at 13 Mt of coal per year.