In a move that has been labelled “indefensible” and “reckless” by green groups, the Queensland government has declared the massive Carmichael coal mine and port proposed for the state’s Galilee Basin as “critical infrastructure”, in an effort to fast-track its development.
State development minister Anthony Lynham said on Monday that the Labor Palaszczuk government had invoked special powers to help progress Adani’s $21 billion project, reinstating and expanding its “prescribed project” status to include its water infrastructure.
“This step bundles together major elements of the project for the first time — the mine, the 389-kilometre rail line, and the water infrastructure, including a pipeline, pumping stations and a dam upgrade,” he said. “This government is serious about having the Adani mine in operation, we want this to happen.”
Lynham said that since the Palaszczuk government had come into power in Queensland in early 2015, 22 key Commonwealth, state and local government approvals had been granted for Adani’s mine, rail and port facilities, and 29 key milestones reached.
“Adani has now obtained all the necessary primary approvals for its mine, rail and port project – and most importantly, I have granted the mining leases.”
But while governments of all colours appear to be rolling out the red carpet for the coal project, there are other hurdles it has yet to clear, not least of all economic ones, as coal looks more and more like a high-risk investment.
As John Quiggan wrote here last month, a long list of banks and other funding sources have announced they won’t touch the project, or have pulled out of existing finance arrangements.
“The list includes the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (formerly a big lender to Adani), NAB, the Queensland Treasury and global banks, including Standard Chartered (another former big lender), Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Barclays, as well as BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole and Societe Generale. The US and Korean Export-Import banks and the State Bank of India have been touted as possible sources, but appear to have backed away.”
Even Adani Group, the Indian conglomerate behind the project, has appeared to lose interest in its coal plans.
And just this week, the energy minister for India – the main market for the coal that would be dig up at Carmichael – called on the country’s power generators to cease coal imports if the nation was to come good on its “One Nation, One Grid, One Price” energy goal.
Speaking at the two-day Energy Conclave 2016 event, Piyush Goyal stressed that the government would hold a dialogue designed to wean private companies off their reliance on coal imports.
Carmichael has also faced serious legal challenges from environmental groups – the most recent of which was rejected by the Federal Court – who argue it will further damage the already compromised Great Barrier Reef and take a huge chunk out of the world’s rapidly diminishing carbon budget, at precisely the time we should be reining it right in.
According to a November 2015 report from The Australia Institute, digging up and burning the 2.3 billion tonnes of coal contained in the deposit at Queensland’s Galilee Basin would effectively cancel out the pledged annual emission reductions of Australia, and for New Zealand nearly 10 times over – and that was before Australia signed up to the Paris Climate agreement.
“The ambitious targets of the Paris Agreement are completely incompatible with opening up new fossil fuel projects,” said Greenpeace Australia Pacific reef campaigner, Shani Tager in a statement on Monday.
“It’s absurd for Australia to give special privileges to a coal mine as the global agreement enters into force,” Tager said.
“Paving the way for Australia’s largest coal mine just after the reef has suffered the worst coral bleaching in its history is indefensible. A project of this size, scale and controversy needs proper scrutiny, not to be pushed blindly through the approval process.
“The Queensland government is supposed to be protecting the reef, but instead it’s pushing through coal mines that will endanger it.”
Australian Greens senator Larissa Waters said the government’s move was reckless and short-sighted, when it should be focusing on meeting its target of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030.
“Instead, they’re prioritising a coal mine owned by an overseas company, that won’t pay any tax in Australia, that will generate a fraction of the jobs that it originally claimed, and it will threaten the Great Barrier Reef and the jobs it provides,” she said.