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PERTH, Feb 11 AAP

February 11 2013, 7:48PM

Whitehaven Coal plans to bring its controversial Maules Creek mine into production as soon as possible after being granted conditional approval by the federal government.

The mine is expected to produce 10.8 million tonnes of a coal a year (Mtpa) of thermal and coking coal.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke on Monday gave the green light to the open cut Maules Creek and nearby Boggabri mine proposals in north west NSW.

Mr Burke said that was satisfied with extra work in place and that the projects could go ahead without "unacceptable impacts" on areas protected under national environment law.

Whitehaven managing director Tony Haggarty welcomed the approval and said he looked forward to working with the minister and the department on approval conditions.

"We are pleased that the minister has now stated that based on the conditions laid down he is satisfied the project can proceed without unacceptable impacts on matters protected under national environmental law," Mr Haggarty said in a statement.

"Notwithstanding the stringent environmental conditions which have been placed on the project and the difficult coal market at present, this is an excellent project and Whitehaven will be seeking to bring it into production as soon as possible."

Mr Burke said if new plans or further modelling were needed, it must be carried out to his satisfaction.

Mr Burke only last week extended his department's timeframe for considering the Maules Creek project until April 30, much to the disappointment of Whitehaven and its investors.

But he was forced to act on Monday after the leaking of a commercially sensitive letter on the weekend that indicated Mr Burke had intended approving the mine back in December.

Mr Burke has accused the NSW government of leaking the letter, and has ruled them out of any future dealings with the coal company over its flagship development.

Community and environment activists say the Maules Creek project threatens koala habitats, thousands of hectares of old growth forests and will force farmers off their land through soil damage.

Mr Burke said he looked at the likely ecological impacts on the critically endangered blakely's red gum and yellow box trees, as well as swift parrot populations.

The Whitehaven proposal gained notoriety after activist Jonathan Moylan admitted sending a press release to media outlets in early January falsely claiming the ANZ Bank had pulled its $1.2 billion loan to the miner.

Conditional federal approval was also granted on Monday to a coal seam methane gas project at Gloucester in NSW owned by AGL Energy.

The Gloucester CSG project was subject to 36 conditions and would not go ahead until a hydrological model was carried out, conducted to determine any potential impacts on groundwater, Mr Burke said.

Whitehaven shares closed four cents lower at $2.96.

By Kim Christian