15 May 2024

Revealed: WA government approved Alcoa mining despite 'adverse impact' warning on native forest and Perth's water supply

| James Day
Start the conversation
climate activists protesting outside an electorate office

Members of WA’s climate movement gather outside Madeleine King’s electorate office to protest against the Commonwealth’s Future Gas Strategy and the new state budget. Photo: Conservation Council of WA.

Western Australia’s Government approved Alcoa’s mining last year despite the state’s environment regulator opposing its management program “in its entirety”.

According to documents obtained by WA Today via a freedom of information request, the WA Department of Water and Environment Regulation (DWER) did not endorse the US mining company’s Huntly and Willowdale Mining and Management Program (MMP).

The DWER feedback reads: “The apparent scale and location of proposed clearing and cumulative impacts combined with the fundamental information gaps and lack of clarity and coherence of the current draft MMP mean that, from a precautionary perspective, there is likely a high level of risk to public drinking water sources and native flora and fauna.”

At a meeting in October, the WA Government was presented with the regulator’s advice on Alcoa’s 2023 to 2027 MMP, which bore several warnings of its high risk to Perth’s water supply and the jarrah forest.

DWER suggested several measures to minimise the MMP’s negative impact, yet the State Government gave its approval in December – only days before the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) announced it would conduct an independent review of Alcoa’s mining.

While there is a clause in the state’s environment legislation making it illegal for new projects to begin any work during a review by the EPA, the government granted Alcoa an exemption allowing its operations to continue. The MMP and other conditions implemented in December will also expire when the EPA releases its findings.

READ ALSO Arts and creative industries to get funding boost in WA State Budget

According to the WA environment regulator’s feedback, in extreme circumstances Alcoa’s mining could shut down the source of 18 per cent of Perth’s water for years.

It claims the strip bauxite mining may contaminate the Serpentine Dam with its oil and chemicals, along with the runoff of sediment from expansive cleared areas.

The enormity of Alcoa’s clearing could also have a “large adverse impact” on the jarrah forests’ diverse flora and fauna, which hosts already declining populations of endangered species.

“Beyond generic statements”, the regulator said it saw nothing in Alcoa’s MMP that appropriately addressed these threats.

While the proposed clearing previously justified advice from WA’s independent EPA and assessment under Commonwealth environment legislation, none occurred due to a 1961 agreement making Alcoa exempt from much of the state’s environmental legislation.

Instead, its operations are reviewed annually by a committee led by the state department responsible for economic development.

DWER also called out Alcoa for not actioning “several previous and long-standing requests” by the government for information, which helped limit the scientific certainty in its MMP.

READ ALSO Government commits to expanding gas production despite environmental warnings

The documents have been obtained as the WA Government is reviewing its environmental protections and released its 2024 State Budget.

The Conservation Council of WA said the budget handed down by Treasurer Rita Saffioti failed to mitigate the impacts of climate change on nature and the environment, despite the state experiencing its hottest and driest summer on record.

The council pointed to the budget’s significant $2.8 billion investment into desalination due to the drying climate, along with WA remaining the only state without a 2030 emissions reduction target.

Executive director Jess Beckerling said while Premier Roger Cook had failed to outline any meaningful plans to act on climate or protect the precious and diminishing natural environment, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had also betrayed the community and future generations by doubling down on fossil fuels.

“The budget reflects the government’s priorities, and what we’ve seen today is that despite earlier promises, both the State and Federal governments are going in precisely the wrong direction on climate and nature,” Ms Beckerling said.

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.