Environment minister Greg Hunt has once again approved Adani’s Carmichael coal mine.
It comes after a stop-start process in which the mine was approved, then rejected, based on its environmental and conservation plans.
In early August the mine’s future was in doubt following its environmental approvals being overturned in the Federal Court.
In a case led by the Mackay Conservation Group, represented by the Environmental Legal Centre EDO NSW, Federal Court justice Anna Katzman set aside the federal approval granted on 24 June 2014.
Principal solicitor Sue Higginson said the decision was based on a failure by federal environment minister Greg Hunt to regard conservation advice about two endangered species, the yakka skink and the ornamental snake.
“The conservation advices were approved by the Minister in April last year, and describe the threats to the survival of these threatened species, which are found only in Queensland,” she said.
“The law requires that the Minister consider these conservation advices so that he understands the impacts of the decision that he is making on matters of National Environmental Significance, in this case the threatened species.”
Carmichael developer Adani Mining said the reason for the federal court decision was based on a technicality.
“It is regrettable that a technical legal error from the Federal Environment Department has exposed the approval to an adverse decision,” a spokesperson said.
“It should be noted the approval did include appropriate conditions to manage the species protection of the yakka skink and ornamental snake.
“However, we have been advised that, because certain documents were not presented by the Department in finalising the approval, it created a technical legal vulnerability that is better to address now.”
Now the miner has been given the go ahead after the environment minister yesterday released a statement saying the project has now been approved once more.
“In making this decision I have considered additional information provided by Adani and environmental groups, including the Mackay Conservation Group, the Environmental Defenders Office, and the Australian Conservation Foundation,” Hunt said in an official statement.
However he did implement a number of conditions on the latest approval.
These include protecting and improving 31,000 hectares of southern black throated finch habitat, providing $1 million in funding for research programs to improve conservation of threatened species in the Galilee Basin; and ensuring the protection of the Doongmabulla Springs.
“The reigiour conditions will protect threatened species and provide long-term benefits for the environment through the development of an offset package,” Hunt said.
“These measures must be approved by myself before mining can start.”
He went on to state he has the power to suspend or revoke the approval if there is a breach of any of the additional environmental conditions.
The announcement was welcomed by Adani.
“Today’s announcement for the final Federal approval from the Carmichael mine and North Galilee Basin rail by minister Hunt makes clear [Adani’s environmental obligations] have been addressed,” the miner said in a company statement.
“We look forward to the remaining government approvals and decision processes being dealt with promptly to ensure these job creating projects get back on track.”
The Queensland government and the Queensland Resources Council also supported Hunt’s decision.
“North Queensland’s resource communities have been impacted by low commodity prices and this is welcome positive news for the resources sector,” QLD mines minister Dr. Anthony Lynham said.
“The delay has been unfortunate but in the interim, the State has continued to progress approval processes under its control in a timely way, including the environmental impact statement for dredging and containment ponds at the Port of Abbot Point.”
The QRC’s head Michael Roche added the he “welcomed the news that Minister Hunt has given his approval for these projects a second time”.
“It is really no surprise though that the projects were approved because all of the necessary environmental protections were in already in place.
“The exploitation of the technical legal loophole that caused the delay was merely a tactic used by green activists in an attempt to thwart efforts to develop the Galilee Basin.”
However not all were as welcoming as the QRC and the Palaszczuk government.
Twitter exploded, condemning the decision.
— Greenpeace Aus Pac (@GreenpeaceAustP) October 15, 2015
Indigenous and environmental groups slammed the decision, saying it puts native fauna and flora at risk, the reef in peril, and is an insult to traditional land owners.
“Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s re-approval of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine is a travesty which the Traditional Owners of Queensland’s Galilee Basin, the Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) people, say is indicative of the Federal Government’s dogged attempts to breathe life into a project that should be abandoned,” the Traditional Owners Council said.
“Our ancient lands are no playground for coal giants. We will keep fighting for our rights and our culture until this project dies and becomes an ugly memory,” Adrian Burragubba, a W&J leader and spokesperson for the Traditional Owners Council, said.
“The W&J people have twice rejected a Land Use Agreement with Adani for the Carmichael coal mine on their land in the Galilee, and have mounted their own separate Federal Court action to stop the mine proceeding. The case goes to a hearing on November 23 and 24,” he said.
“This disastrous project didn’t have our consent before Minister Hunt reissued his approval, and it doesn’t have it now.”
The Mackay Conservation Group concurred.
“Minister Hunt has again failed the people of Australia by failing to address new evidence on the devastating impacts of what would be Australia’s largest coal mine,” Mackay Conservation Group Co-ordinator Ellen Roberts, said.
“Hunt’s new conditions do not adequately deal with the seriousness of the implications of this mine. Simply put, these impacts are very serious, and can’t be offset. The mine should have been refused.”
The Australian Marine Conservation Society said these approvals now put the Great Barrier Reef at direct risk.
“This mine requires millions of tonnes of dredging in the Reef’s waters, which will be dumped on the adjacent port site next to the internationally significant Caley Valley wetlands that support 40,000 birds in a good wet season,” AMCS campaign and spokesperson Imogen Zethoven said.
“The Great Barrier Reef will also be put at risk by hundreds more coal ships every year ploughing through the Reef’s waters.
“We condemn this decision which puts the interests of the coal industry over the interests of the Great Barrier Reef and the tourism industry that relies on it.”
Fellow Galilee Basin coal miner, GVK Hancock, is currently facing another round of court appearances afters its environmental approvals for the Alpha coal mine were appealed against in court, only a month after it defeated two similar appeals in the Supreme Court.