The bill known as the ‘water trigger’ amendment has passed the Senate, giving the Commonwealth the responsibility of ensuring there are no impacts on water systems when considering CSG or coal mining applications.
The amendment to the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) means further approval triggers will apply to large coal mining and CSG projects.
The amendment was introduced by Federal New England MP Tony Windsor who said projects currently in the pipeline will be investigated under the new legislation, ABC reported.
“CSG and coal mining projects can no longer be given the green light unless independent scientific advice concludes they won’t damage our precious water resources,” Windsor said.
“This new law backs up the rulings of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee, which was formed with $200 million in federal funding following my negotiations with the government over the mining tax.
“Federal oversight based on independent science will help protect Australia’s most productive farmland from potential damage and encourage mining companies to pursue projects with lower risk profiles.”
Caroona Coal Action Group spokesman Tim Duddy said he was delighted with the new legislation.
“We’re greatly relieved that now we have some recognition that water is potentially threatened by the mining industry, however, it’s not the end of journey,” Duddy said.
"Some of those water resources are several million years old and it would be ridiculous to contemplate ruining them for the sake of two or three years to find out what you're impacts are going to be.
"If the mining companies have to wait a little longer before they get their projects up, it's not relevant. The fact of the matter is here we have enormously significant agricultural water resources and this bill goes a long way to doing that."
However the mining industry is concerned the amendment will create uncertainty around projects and effect investment.
The Western Australia Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CME) said the amendment created more red tape for mining companies.
“Just over a year ago, the government agreed to remove duplication and double handling of environment assessments and approvals. Now we’ve seen the federal government backflip and pass the ‘water trigger’ Amendment Bill, which requires EPBC Act assessment and approval of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments which impact on a water resource,” said CME chief Reg Howard-Smith.
“CME remains concerned there appears to be little understanding in Canberra of how difficult business conditions are for many in the resource sector. The cost of doing business and unnecessary administrative processes, along with volatile commodity prices are significant challenges for the development of many resource projects,” said Howard-Smith.
While the Queensland Resources Council (QRC) described the federal government’s “meddling” with the approvals process as “another unnecessary disincentive to investment”.
“Industry’s focus will now be minimising harm arising from the implementation of the commonwealth EPBC Act's new water trigger, for example, through the drafting of the ‘significant impact’ guidelines,” chief Michael Roche said.
“Another layer of bureaucracy is simply adding to our global reputation as a prohibitively expensive and complicated place to do business.
“This bad piece of legislation just serves to throw out another obstacle to valuable projects getting off the drawing board. The only people cheering are those radical activist groups hell-bent on shutting down the coal and coal seam gas industries.”