New South Wales (NSW) state Planning and Assessment Commission (PAC) has approved the expansion of Rio Tinto's Mount Thorley Warkworth open-cut coal mine in Australia.
The firm has been seeking government approval to produce 10Mt of thermal coal annually after the existing permit expires in June 2017.
In June 2014, Rio Tinto submitted a fresh application to the NSW to extend the life of its coal mine by 20 years after the NSW Land and Environment Court (LAEC) rejected the previous one.
According to the commission, the expansion will aid extraction of a further 230Mt of coal over 21 years.
Responding to the decision, Australian community action group Lock the Gate Alliance NSW coordinator Georgina Woods said: "Despite securing approval for multiple large scale-expansion projects, and increasing production levels, and coal the industry has shed 4,000 jobs in the last two years.
"Approving this project does not solve that problem: the Hunter region is slipping into a crisis that must be urgently addressed."
Mount Thorley Warkworth is an integrated operation of two open-cut mines located adjacent to each other, 15km south west of Singleton in the Hunter Valley region of NSW.
Mount Thorley Warkworth has been in operation since 1981, and is 80% owned by Coal & Allied Industries, while Posco Australia has 20%.
Image: Rio Tinto's Mount Thorley Warkworth open-cut coal mine in Australia. Photo: Copyright © 2014 Rio Tinto.