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Alcoa wears $240m mining approval delay to keep ‘critical’ WA onside

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Approval sought for another decade of mining

Beyond 2023 Alcoa has a longer-term challenge to gain environmental approval to clear more than 9000 hectares of forest to supply about five million tonnes a year of bauxite to its Kwinana and Pinjarra alumina refineries and export an additional 2.5 million tonnes of the ore a year.

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Chief executive Harvey called the proposal before the WA Environmental Protection Authority a “full-blown review” of how Alcoa will extend its Huntly mine into the new areas of Myara North and Holyoake for a decade from 2025.

In November 2022, the EPA requested Alcoa supply a swathe of additional information including considering if mining the new areas was consistent with the “ongoing ecological integrity of the northern jarrah forest.”

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2022 said the northern jarrah forest faced a high risk of significant transition or collapse without changes to management practices.

Wilderness Society WA campaigns manager Patrick Gardner said it was encouraging that the EPA had added assessments of the carbon storage capacity of the forest, protection of mature forest and cumulative impacts to the work required to gain approval.

“So we really need to think about what is best for this ecosystem: the guidance from the IPCC, or a state agreement that was developed when JFK was still alive?” Gardner said, referring to the original deal that allowed Alcoa to start mining in WA in 1963.

Alcoa is seeking environmental approval to mine the blue-hatched areas from 2025.Credit:Alcoa

Harvey said he was confident Alcoa could gain the approvals it needed to operate its three WA refineries “for another few decades.”

“Everything is lined up, we have the right people working on it, and I think we have the support of our host government,” he said.

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Gardner said the same factors that drove the decision to end native forest logging – the drying climate and reduced regeneration capacity of native forests – were also playing out in the bauxite-rich northern jarrah forests.

“The wide-scale destruction from the logging, clearing, burning and mining of bauxite is only accelerating these impacts,” he said.

Worsley Alumina, WA’s other bauxite miner owned by South32, also has a proposal before the EPA to significantly expand its footprint which includes clearing 4399 hectares of forest.

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