A Darling Downs coal mine accused of illegally mining land will avoid prosecution after it struck a deal with the state government that will see the mine spend $2m on environmental rehabilitation.
New Hope Group's New Acland Coal Mine near Oakey entered into an Enforceable Undertaking with the Department of Environment and Science on Thursday for mining an area at the mine known as West Pit.
Under the Environmental Protection Act 1994, an EU is a tool capable of being entered into as an alternative to prosecution.
New Acland Mine general manager Dave O'Dwyer said the EU related to a "dispute" over the authorisation of mining in West Pit.
"The mining activity was identified in mine plans of operation prior to the activity occurring. However, the Department of Environment and Science disputed this as an accepted form of authorisation," Mr O'Dwyer said.
According to the DES, NAC applied for an EU and the department accepted the application.
NAC has agreed to plant more than 100ha of land to eucalyptus, paper bark and other refuge trees, designed to boost the local koala population.
As part of the agreement, NAC has also committed to the long-term protection of the area known as Bottle Tree Hill by way of a preservation covenant with the state of Queensland.
The company will also review staff skills, training, and its permit to disturb system, while the department said it would monitor NAC's compliance with the undertaking.
Environmental group Lock the Gate Alliance and Oakey Coal Action Alliance say they are "outraged" the DES accepted a "greenwashed alternative" to prosecuting NAC.
Both groups are now calling on Resources Minister Scott Stewart to refuse a mining lease for stage three on the grounds that New Acland cannot be trusted to operate within Queensland laws.
In a statement, the DES said the undertaking finalised the department's "extensive enquiries into this matter and is an appropriate enforcement outcome with direct environmental benefits".
OCAA secretary Paul King said the response to the company's behaviour fell short of community expectations.
"Instead of prosecuting New Acland, the department has instead rewarded the mining company ...," Mr King said.
"Mining companies are required by law to rehabilitate land anyway, and so the undertaking is neither a deterrent nor a penalty."
Mr King said the department's press statement made it clear it had been coordinating with NAC for a long time while leaving impacted farmers and the Queensland public in the dark.
Lock the Gate Queensland coordinator Ellie Smith said it was "ridiculous" that New Acland had already mined the land they were currently seeking approvals from the minister for.
"This shows how broken Queensland environment laws are," Ms Smith said.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.