Federal environment minister Greg Hunt has given the green light to the Carmichael coal mine and rail infrastructure development in Queensland, just two months after his original approval of the controversial and economically questionable project was overturned by the Federal Court.
Hunt said in a media statement on Thursday afternoon that his decision to re-approve what would be the biggest new coal mine in Australia was in accordance with national environmental law and in consideration of additional information provided by the project’s Indian developer, Adani Group, as well as by local environmental groups, including the Mackay Conservation Group, the Environmental Defenders Office and the Australian Conservation Foundation.
Funded by GetUp.org, it was the work of Mackay Conservation Group that led to Hunt’s first approval being overturned, after it brought a case arguing that the Coalition environment minister had incorrectly assessed the project’s climate and environment impacts, ignoring both the advice of his own Department, and the poor environmental record of Adani.
The court ruled in favor of setting aside the federal approval, based on Hunt’s failure to factor in conservation advice for two Commonwealth-listed vulnerable species.
But Hunt, who last year described the proponents of the legal challenge as being “against electricity”, said these species had now been duly factored in via “strict” conditions attached to the approval, including the requirement of $1 million in funding for research programs to improve conservation of threatened species in the Galilee Basin over 10 years.
“The conditions I have imposed take into account issues raised by the community and ensure that the proponent must meet the highest environmental standards,” Hunt’s media release said.
“The rigorous conditions will 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.”
Hunt stressed that he had the power to suspend or revoke the approval, and to apply “strict” penalties, if the “strict” conditions were breached. He said Department of Environment compliance and enforcement officers would closely monitor the operation of the mine.
Hunt also noted, at the end of his release, that he had “remade the approval decision” for Adani Mining’s North Galilee Basin Rail Project, “with 23 strict conditions, as a precautionary measure to provide investment certainty.”
This might sound ironic to the renewable energy industry – for which investment certainty has been at a premium for some time now, due largely to the antics of Hunt’s own party – but it might also confuse industry watchers who have warned that the Adani-led mega-coal mine and port project is loaded with ‘unprecedented’ levels of financial complexity and risk, including the climate risk attached to digging up coal in a warming world with an increasingly tight carbon budget.
Needless to say, green groups are not happy with Hunt’s decision, not least of all the Mackay Conservation Group, which says the reapproval still risks threatened species, as well as precious ground water, the global climate and taxpayers’ money.
“Minister Hunt has again failed the people of Australia by ignoring new evidence on the devastating impacts of what would be Australia’s largest coal mine,” said the group’s co-ordinator, Ellen Roberts.
“With Adani’s job figures revealed to be fictitious and the global financial markets backing away from coal and towards renewables, the sensible decision from Minister Hunt would have been to reject this mine with all its unattractive baggage,” she said.
Greenpeace also condemned the decision, describing the project as “a complete disaster” for the climate and the Great Barrier Reef, but noting that it was by no means a certainty to go ahead, with more and more banks ruling themselves out of backing the Adani proposal.
“We are appalled that the Australian federal government has chosen to reapprove the Carmichael project, but the reality is that Adani are a long way from getting the mine operational,” said Greenpeace campaigner Shani Tager on Thursday.
“It fails the triple bottom line — it would be an environmental disaster for the climate and the Great Barrier Reef, it would not make a profit, and it does not have social licence from the community.
“It’s a dangerous pipedream. Fortunately for the Reef, and the climate, Carmichael has been rejected by 14 major banks, Queensland’s treasury department has described the project as ‘unbankable’ and no other investors are prepared to get behind a project that needs $16.5 billion.”