14 March 2013 — An Australian Greens bill, to stop national environment laws being handed to the states, has not received the backing of a Senate committee.

Environment spokesperson Senator Larissa Waters said if the Federal Government had “truly ditched its idea to hand over national environmental protection to state governments” it needed to ensure it did not happen in the future.

“The opposition has said it will hand off environmental powers to the states and the Labor-dominated senate committee has confirmed it won’t lift a finger to stop Abbott,” she said.

“The committee itself echoed these concerns in its final report, stating it is ‘not appropriate for the states and territories to exercise decision making powers for approvals in relation to matters on national environmental significance’.

“But sadly, politics and the influence of big business and mining magnates have got in the way of recommendations to support the bill, which would save our country’s most iconic species and landscapes from the ongoing threat of national environment protection being taken away by the government of the day.”

Senator Waters said the senate committee had recommended that an independent National Environment Commission be established which was “welcome news”.

Australian Conservation Foundation Healthy Rivers campaigner Jonathan La Nauze the Foundation strongly opposed the push for environmental approval powers to be given to state governments and called on the federal government to amend the Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act to make sure this cannot happen.

“If state governments had their way, there would be a dam on the Franklin River, oil rigs on the Great Barrier Reef and cows trampling through the Alpine National Park,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government’s decision to consider impacts on water resources when assessing coal seam gas and coal mines was long overdue, Greens leader Senator Christine Milne said.

“The Government should have done this 18 months ago by backing the Greens bill to do exactly what is now proposed,” she said.

“In that time, the Environment Minister has ticked off on every coal seam gas project that has crossed his desk.

“How convenient that all the big coal seam gas projects have already been approved and these belated changes won’t affect them.

“All of the expert institutions – the National Water Commission, CSIRO and the government’s own independent scientific committee on coal seam gas – are warning of the devastating impacts of coal seam gas on our water and our land.

“The Minister must now apply these new rules to all previously approved coal seam gas projects and stop approving new projects when we don’t have enough information about the long-term impacts on our land, water and communities,” Senator Waters said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation has also applauded the move saying state governments had made a mess of regulating coal seam gas mining and other water-polluting activities.

Mr La Nauze said coal and coal seam gas mining were causing “massive damage to aquifers that support unique wildlife and productive farmland right across the country”.