Aus­tralia court re­vokes ap­proval for huge In­dia-backed coal mine


An Aus­tralian court blocked an In­dian-backed pro­ject to build what could be one of the world’s big­gest coal mines, which en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists say threat­ens the World Her­itage-listed Great Bar­rier Reef.

But while en­vi­ron­ment groups hailed the de­ci­sion as another im­por­tant step in the AU$16.5 bil­lion (US$12.2 bil­lion) pro­ject’s even­tual demise, In­dian firm Adani in­sisted it would go ahead.

“With the con­sent of the par­ties, the Fed­eral Court has for­mally set aside the ap­proval of the Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Pro­ject,” Aus­tralia’s En­vi­ron­ment Depart­ment said in a state­ment.

En­vi­ron­men­tal groups had chal­lenged the gov­ern­ment’s ap­proval of the mine on the ba­sis of the amount of green­house gases it would cre­ate, its im­pact on vul­ner­a­ble species and Adani’s “poor en­vi­ron­men­tal record”.

They also have protested against its im­pact on the Great Bar­rier Reef, one of the world’s most bio­di­verse marine ar­eas, be­cause the coal would have to be shipped out of a nearby port.

The court did not pub­lish its rea­sons for re­vok­ing the ap­proval, but the En­vi­ron­ment Depart­ment said the de­ci­sion was made be­cause there was a pos­si­bil­ity the ad­vice it had pro­vided to En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Greg Hunt be­fore he made his de­ci­sion did not meet all tech­ni­cal re­quire­ments.

“This is a tech­ni­cal, ad­min­is­tra­tive mat­ter and to re­move this doubt, the depart­ment has ad­vised that the de­ci­sion should be re­con­sid­ered,” it said, adding: “Re­con­sid­er­ing the de­ci­sion does not re­quire re­vis­it­ing the en­tire ap­proval process.”

Sue Hig­gin­son, a lawyer for the Mackay Con­ser­va­tion Group which brought the le­gal chal­lenge, said the court ruled on whether due con­sid­er­a­tion had been given to ad­vice about two vul­ner­a­ble rep­tiles — the lizard-like yakka skink and the or­na­men­tal snake.

Both are only f ound in Queens­land, the state where the pro­ject would be lo­cated.

“The case also al­leged that the min­is­ter failed to con­sider global green­house emis­sions from the burn­ing of the coal, and Adani’s en­vi­ron­men­tal history, how­ever these mat­ters are left un­re­solved be­fore the court,” Hig­gin­son said.

The En­vi­ron­ment Depart­ment said it ex­pected it would take six to eight weeks to pre­pare new ad­vice and sup­port­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion and for Hunt to re­con­sider his de­ci­sion.

Elec­tric­ity and Jobs

It is the latest set-back for the con­tro­ver­sial Adani mine and comes af­ter ma­jor Euro­pean and US banks ruled out fund­ing parts of the de­vel­op­ment over en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns.

Crit­ics say fall­ing coal prices have also damp­ened in­ter­est.

The mine was forecast to pro­duce 60 mil­lion tonnes of ther­mal coal a year for ex­port, pro­vid­ing elec­tric­ity for up to 100 mil­lion peo­ple in In­dia, and gen­er­ate thou­sands of Aus­tralian jobs.

The Queens­land Re­sources Coun­cil said for­eign in­vestors were watch­ing closely.

“For­eign in­vestors do not have lim­it­less pa­tience as their projects are mired in a seem­ingly un­end­ing process of le­gal chal­lenges,” coun­cil chief ex­ec­u­tive Michael Roche said.

The de­vel­op­ment pro­poses mas­sive open-cut and un­der­ground coal min­ing some 160 kilo­me­ters north­west of Clermont in cen­tral Queens­land, as well as a 189-km rail link.

Green­peace said the gov­ern­ment now had a “sec­ond chance” to con­sign the mine to history while Ellen Roberts, from the Mackay Con­ser­va­tion Group, said the de­ci­sion paved the way for the gov­ern­ment to over­turn ap­proval.

“It’s ob­vi­ously got a huge cli­mate change im­pact, huge ground wa­ter im­pact. There are a num­ber of threat­ened species ... there are im­pacts on the Great Bar­rier Reef,” Roberts told AFP.

Adani said the de­ci­sion was re­gret­table, but it was com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing its mine, rail and port projects in Queens­land were de­vel­oped and op­er­ated in ac­cor­dance with Aus­tralian laws, in­clud­ing strict en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions.

“We have been ad­vised that, be­cause cer­tain doc­u­ments were not pre­sented by the depart­ment in fi­nal­iz­ing the ap­proval, it cre­ated a tech­ni­cal le­gal vul­ner­a­bil­ity that is bet­ter to ad­dress now,” it said.

Adani, which is in the fifth year of de­vel­op­ment and ap­provals for the mas­sive pro­ject, said it was con­fi­dent the con­di­tions im­posed on the orig­i­nal con­sent were ro­bust and ap­pro­pri­ate.

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