ENVIRONMENT Minister Greg Hunt has today given the green light to Indian mining giant Adani to develop Australia's largest coal mine.
It comes just over two months after the Federal Court overturned federal environmental approval granted to Adani's Carmichael coal mine project in the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland.
In August, Adani's environmental authority for the $16.5 billion project was set aside after court action was taken by the Mackay Conservation Group, which alleged Mr Hunt had not considered department advice about two threatened species - the Yakka Skink and Ornamental Snake.
However, today in a statement, Mr Hunt said the Carmichael coal mine and rail project had been approved in accordance with national environment law "subject to 36 of the strictest conditions in Australian history".
"In making this decision I have considered additional information provided by Adani and environmental groups, including the Mackay Conservation Group, the Environmental Defenders Office and the Australian Conservation Foundation," Mr Hunt said.
"The conditions I have imposed take into account issues raised by the community and ensure that the proponent must meet the highest environmental standards."
The conditions include: Implementing all advice from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC) on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining. Protect and improve 31,000 hectares of southern black throated finch habitat. Require $1 million of funding for research programs to improve conservation of threatened species in the Galilee Basin over 10 years. Ensure protection of Doongmabulla Springs through strict monitoring of groundwater and triggers to take action so impacts do not exceed the approved limits.
Mr Hunt said the conditions would protect threatened species and provide long-term benefits for the environment through the development of an offset package.
"These measures must be approved by myself before mining can start," he said.
"I have the power to suspend or revoke the approval and strict penalties apply if there is a breach of the strict conditions.
"Department of Environment compliance and enforcement officers will closely monitor the operation of the mine."
Mr Hunt said he visited the site with the previous chair of the IESC and "fully incorporated her suggestions in the approval conditions".
"The proponent is required to provide a Groundwater Management and Monitoring Plan, which must receive approval from myself before mining can commence," he said.
Today's announcement comes after the Abbott government announced in late August that it would push for changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to stop “radical green activists” engaging in “vigilante litigation” aimed at blocking major projects.
Mr Hunt introduced amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act into Parliament, following the litigation that sidelined Adani's Carmichael coal mine project.
Attorney General George Brandis announced moves to repeal section 487 of the EPBC Act, as previously reported by FarmOnline.
Section 487 of the EPBC Act extends the range of persons and organisations that can apply for judicial review of EPBC Act approval decisions, beyond the current limit.
The Bill passed the House of Representatives but was referred to an inquiry by the Senate’s Environment and Communications Legislation Committee.
The Senate inquiry into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standing) Bill 2015 has received a range of submissions, including from the National Farmers’ Federation which strongly opposed the Bill.
However, as previously reported by FarmOnline, the legislation is likely to be scrapped under new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Australian Greens climate change spokesperson Senator Larissa Waters said Mr Hunt's decision continued the Coalition's "coal obsession" under Malcolm Turnbull.
“The world is desperately trying to avert catastrophic global warming, and yet the Turnbull government has gone ahead and ticked off on what would become Australia’s largest coal mine," Senator Waters said.
“This climate disaster is set to turn the Great Barrier Reef into a highway for coal ships; suck up Queensland’s precious groundwater and threaten the black throated finch with extinction.
“But our so-called Environment Minister is outrageously trying to convince Queenslanders in his media release that the mine will have long-term benefits for the environment.
“Queensland needs a rapid transition to the jobs-rich clean energy economy of the future, not new polluting coal mines.
“It’s as toxic to investors as it is to the environment – Adani has no finance for the project and 15 banks have distanced themselves from it, including NAB and Commbank.
“The rest of the world is turning away from coal, including India, which plans to end coal imports by 2017, and the future for Queensland is in clean energy."
Approval 'grossly irresponsible'
Australian Conservation Foundation president Geoff Cousins also slammed today's decision by Mr Hunt.
“To approve a massive coal mine that would make species extinct, deplete 297 billion litres of precious groundwater and produce 128.4 million tonnes of CO2 a year is grossly irresponsible,” Mr Cousins said.
“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 will scrutinise this approval decision and carefully consider our options.
“We will use all appropriate means to stop this mine."
Meanwhile, GetUp! has called on members and the general public to donate to fund the next round of legal challenges to the Adani project.
Sam Regester said GetUp members had already funded legal challenges against Adani’s coal mine and calls for funding were "now more urgent than ever".
“This coal mine is the dumbest, most dangerous and uneconomic development in Australia,” Mr Regester said.
“Mining and burning this coal will cook the Great Barrier Reef. The mining and burning of coal causes Reef waters to warm and become more acidic. This mine’s coal will be a massive contributor to dangerous global warming and push us over the two degree limit."