Environment groups are up in arms over a “grossly irresponsible” federal government decision to reapprove the controversial Carmichael mine project.
The $16 billion Carmichael mine and rail infrastructure project was on Thursday reapproved by federal environment minister Greg Hunt, following its initial approval being rejected by the federal court in July.
In a statement released on Thursday, Mr Hunt said the mine development had been approved “subject to 36 of the strictest conditions in Australian history”.
“In making this decision I have considered additional information provided by [developer] Adani and environmental groups, including the Mackay Conservation Group, the Environmental Defenders Office and the Australian Conservation Foundation,” he said.
- implementing all advice from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development
- protecting and improving 31,000 hectares of southern black throated finch habitat
- requiring $1 million of funding for research programs to improve conservation of threatened species in the Galilee Basin over 10 years
- ensuring protection of Doongmabulla Springs through strict monitoring of groundwater and triggers to take action so impacts do not exceed the approved limits
Environment groups were quick in their condemnation.
Mackay Conservation Group, which succeeded in overturning the first approval, said the reapproval risked threatened species, groundwater and taxpayers’ money.
“Hunt’s new conditions do not adequately deal with the seriousness of the implications of this mine,” Mackay Conservation Group coordinator Ellen Roberts said. “Simply put, these impacts are very serious, and can’t be offset. The mine should have been refused.”
Ms Roberts said that with “fictitious” jobs figures by Adani (initial projections of 10,000 jobs have been shown to in fact be fewer than 1500) and global markets backing away from coal, Mr Hunt should have backed away from the project.
“Minister Hunt is sacrificing threatened species such as the black throated finch and precious groundwater resources for the sake of a mine that simply does not stack up economically.”
The Australian Conservation Council called the move “grossly irresponsible”.
“At a time when the world is desperately seeking cleaner energy options this huge new coal mine will make the effort to combat climate change all the more difficult,” ACF president Geoff Cousins said.
350.org said the move showed that the Coalition under Malcolm Turnbull had not changed.
“It’s clear a Turnbull-led Coalition is still wedded to irresponsible and unnecessary coal projects that threaten our climate, communities, water and health,” 350.org Australia spokesperson Josh Creaser said.
“In the lead up to the Paris climate talks, Australia’s major export partners and allies are leading a move away from coal. The re-approval of this mega coal mine shows that our government remains out of touch and unwilling to protect our communities from dirty coal.”
The initial approval to the Carmichael mine was challenged in the federal court by Mackay Conservation Group, which successfully argued that minister Hunt had ignored his own department’s advice about the mine’s impact on two vulnerable species, the yakka skink and the ornamental snake.
The then-Abbott government’s dramatic response was to call the action “lawfare”, with Attorney-General George Brandis promising to restrict green groups from challenging major developments under federal law, a move the government now appears to have stepped away from.
The development still has hurdles to jump before Adani can commence construction however, with the Queensland Land Court still to hand down a decision on a case heard in April that challenges the project on the basis of a number of issues including water, pollution, financial viability and threats to endangered species.
“In a nutshell that’s the big decision that will determine whether the project goes ahead,” director of Energy Finance Studies at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis Tim Buckley told The Fifth Estate.
The mine also does not have the approval of the traditional land owners, the Wangan and Jagalingou people.
“The government can override that challenge [currently in the Federal Court] but it would be a brave state minister who would override traditional land rights,” Mr Buckley said.
Finally, Mr Buckley said financing would be a major roadblock.
“There is not one single bank who has said it will fund the project and on the road to Paris there won’t be too many banks prepared to do so.”