Kerry Stokes
Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes. (Image: AAP/David Moir)

Is Western Australia’s environmental watchdog afraid of Kerry Stokes? It’s a question being asked by environmental groups after a company backed by the billionaire got a step closer to a gas development with a tick of approval from the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

The Waitsia project attracted controversy in August after it was the only one in the state to be granted an exemption from tough new restrictions on gas exports out of WA to the eastern states and overseas. WA Premier Mark McGowan walked out of a press conference instead of answering questions about whether he had spoken to Stokes about the matter.

And last month the project, which is a joint venture between Stokes-backed Beach Energy and Japanese company Mitsui and Co, was handed another win: environmental approval from the independent regulator amid concerns most pollution from the project has been overlooked.