The government of Western Australia has opted to conditionally approve Cameco’s uranium mining project in Yeelirrie despite opposition from the Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

The EPA previously declined to support the project on the grounds that it might compromise the habitat of stygofauna, also known as ‘microscopic desert prawns’, which are creatures 0.3mm in length and invisible to the naked eye.

In approving the project, State Environment Minister Albert Jacob stated:

“The Government had considered broader economic and social matters, as well as environmental factors.”

“The Liberal National Government is committed to ensuring this and the other three uranium mines approved for construction and operation in Western Australia are subject to best-practice environmental and safety standards.”

However, the response of the Labor Opposition is concerning. Shadow Environment Minister, Chris Tallentire, not only criticised the ability of governments to make decisions contrary to EPA recommendations, but floated the idea of removing the power to approve projects from the Environment Minister and reallocating it to the State Administrative Tribunal.

This would mean that project approvals would be determined not by democratically elected leaders, but in extensive, time-costly legal processes conducted by judges and bureaucrats with little public accountability.

More encouragingly, the industry rallied against Labor’s proposal. The response of the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, which represents smaller participants in the sector, reflected the general sentiment:

“This would blow out project approval times and be a lawyers’ picnic.”

Moreover, Minister Jacob refused to support the concept of an ‘environment court’, stating it would be an ‘unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and cost to taxpayers’.

The IPA discussed Cameco’s Yeelirrie project in August last year:

“Yeelirrie can and should be seen as yet another example of how green-tape is thwarting economic development and raising energy prices for practically no environmental benefit. With Australia’s global-competitiveness continuing to fall, we urgently need to reform our outdated environmental laws.”

Mining projects not only create jobs and economic growth, but also lower energy prices for consumers. The IPA welcomes the West Australian government’s decision, and advocates that governments must not only consider environmental concerns, but also give consideration to productive economic activity.

By Michael Husek