Federal Government moves to increase mine approval powers

Federal Government Environment Minister Tony Burke on Tuesday announced plans to increase powers around the approval and rejection of coal mine and coal seam gas projects.

Burke said he wants to change the laws so that he can consider the impact on water as part of his decision making process, the ABC reported.

Previously federal approval only related to threatened species or wetlands, journalist Latika Bourke yesterday tweeted.

The move to protect water resources from CSG operations and ‘‘large’’ coal projects was welcomed by environmentalists yesterday but slammed by the coal and gas lobbies as duplicating systems already exercised by the states, the Newcastle Herald reported.

Currently state governments have a major say on approving industrial projects.

But when the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act was introduced in 1999, Canberra was given the power to intervene in relation to threatened species.

Changes to the Act are not expected to apply to approved projects.

Burke has proposed that projects with a potentially ‘‘significant impact’’ on water resources could be ‘‘called in’’ by an ‘‘independent expert scientific committee’’.

Lock The Gate activist Carmel Flint welcomed the proposal but said it remained to be seen whether the government was required to ‘‘take the committee’s advice or only consider it’’.

‘‘The real test of this change will be in whether the government rejects mines planned for the Liverpool Plains, as well as the Arrow gas project in Queensland, which was slammed in a review by the scientific committee,’’ she said.

The NSW Minerals Council said the Federal Government was wrongly trying to convince people the existing state assessment system was not sufficient.

Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee said the proposals duplicate existing state procedures and is an example of ‘‘regulatory creep for mining projects’’.

‘‘NSW mine companies already operate in a complex web of regulations and spend a considerable amount of time and resources meeting the very strict standards set by government regulators,’’ Galilee said.

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