Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition
Australia: No to open-pit coal mine near Great Barrier Reef
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia for the first time has rejected a coal mining application based on environmental law, with the government minister citing the open-pit mine’s potential harm to the nearby Great Barrier Reef.
The government is under pressure to curb climate change by blocking all new coal and gas extraction projects. Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of both fossil fuels, which are major sources of the nation’s wealth. But Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has said she would decide individual projects on their merits.
Recently, she announced her decision to prevent the Central Queensland Coal Project from being excavated northwest of the Queensland state town of Rockhampton and less than 6 miles from the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast Australian coast.
The project would have had unacceptable impacts on fresh water in the area and potentially on fragile seagrass meadows that feed dugongs and provide fish breeding grounds, she said.
The open-pit mine has an estimated excavation capacity of 11 million tons of coal annually for 25 years.
Plibersek said the risk of “pollution and irreversible damage to the reef is very real.”
“The Great Barrier Reef is responsible for about $4.2 billion worth of economic activity every year, about 64,000 jobs,” Plibersek said. “Given the science before me, it became apparent that the risks were simply too great.”
The mine was proposed by mining magnate Clive Palmer, who founded and finances the minor conservative United Australia Party.
A United Nations-backed mission recommended in November that the Great Barrier Reef be added to the list of endangered World Heritage sites, warning that without “ambitious, rapid and sustained” climate action, the world’s largest coral reef was in peril.
While warming oceans was the greatest threat to the network of more than 2,500 reefs covering 134,000 square miles, water quality and runoff from the Queensland coast were also risks.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s center-left Labor Party government has increased Australia’s ambition for reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions since it was elected in 2022.
The Parliament enshrined in law Labor’s election pledge to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 43% below 2005 levels by 2030. The previous conservative government had a more modest target to reduce emissions by between 26% and 28% by the end of the decade.
Labor has relied on the minor Greens party’s 12 senators to get legislation through the upper chamber.
The Greens want Australia to slash emissions by 75% by 2030 and are pressuring the government to ban any further coal and gas projects.
The government faces another contentious energy industry decision when it considers extending an offshore gas exploration license off Sydney’s northern beaches.