Rio Tinto faces eco-warrior protest amid court bid to explore EV minerals permits

Rio Tinto faces eco-warrior protest amid court bid to explore EV minerals permits

Mining giant Rio Tinto (ASX: RIO) is facing the wrath of environmentalists this week as the company seeks to secure 10 exploration permits in Western Australia’s Northern Jarrah Forests region.

In a move that stems from the ongoing fallout of Rio Tinto’s destruction of ancient Aboriginal cave paintings at Juukan Gorge in 2020, a protest co-ordinated by nine conservation groups is being planned outside the Perth Warden’s Court on Friday, July 22.

Ironically, Rio Tinto is tapping into the eco-led electric vehicle (EV) boom with plans to explore for the essential battery minerals of nickel and cobalt which are located within the permits near the town of Dwellingup.

While the permits do not overlap existing conservation zones, environmentalists are pushing back on the planned exploration program in an area that they say has become a popular eco-tourism and adventure destination.

The Dwellingup Protection Group says Rio Tinto’s applications could lead to mining in two areas of jarrah forest adjacent to the Dwellingup town site.

“The move has attracted criticism from locals, outdoor recreation businesses, biodiversity scientists, schools, and the rapidly increasing number of visitors to the area,” the group says in a statement.

Community groups, led by the WA Forest Alliance, have been fighting an extension by Alcoa to bauxite mining in areas of the nearby Darling Scarp where mining has been under way since the 1960s.

Dwellingup Discovery Forest, backed by the Dwellingup Protection Group, says accelerated expansion of mining activity in the region could lead to the clearing of a further 13,672 hectares of the Northern Jarrah Forests over the next decade.

“The conservation of the remaining Northern Jarrah Forests is an imperative,” says spokesman for Dwellingup Discovery Forest, Jennie Wise. “We urge the (WA) Premier to consider the economics of eco-tourism assets that remain forever, versus the short-term option of destruction of this unique part of the world.”

Rio Tinto has had trouble burying its PR disaster of May 2020 when the company blasted the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters, leaving local traditional owners devastated. Environmental groups say residents fear a disregard for cultural and community values by mining companies will result in a similar fate for the forests near Dwellingup.

“We recently achieved a major policy change that will see native forest logging ending by January 2024, which is a massive progress for this area and the rest of the south-west’s forests, but this policy change doesn’t affect clearing for approved mining operations,” says WA Forest Alliance convenor Jess Beckerling. “The potentially catastrophic impacts of mining in these threatened forests must also now be addressed.”

Rio Tinto did not respond to questions from Business News Australia in relation to community concerns for its exploration plans.

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