In Australia, a Lizard and a Snake Just Scuttled the World’s Most Dangerous Coal Mine

Federal court threw out approval for a gigantic carbon-spewing project because it might drive two endangered species extinct.

Yakka skink; ornamental snake. (Photos: Flickr; illustration: Marc Fusco)

Aug 5, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

Two small, scaly critters have upended a $15.5 billion proposal to build one of the world’s largest coal mines, which if operational would add around 130 million tons of heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollution into the air every year for six decades.

In a tersely worded order, the Australian federal court on Wednesday threw out federal approval for a plan by Indian coal developer Adani Enterprises to build the Carmichael Mine in the state of Queensland.

The court was ruling on a suit brought by environmental group Mackay Conservation that claimed the government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott illegally ignored scientific findings that showed the project would destroy key habitat of the yakka skink, a type of lizard, and the ornamental snake.

Both critters are listed as vulnerable to extinction under Australian endangered species law.

Within hours of the ruling, Commonwealth Bank, a major Australian industrial lender, announced that it was ending its role as a financial adviser to the Carmichael mine project, ABC News Australia reported.

As the environmental and climate risks of the Carmichael mine development and the related Abbot Point coal terminal expansion have emerged, Adani has had trouble securing financing for either venture. Last year, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan, and Goldman Sachs joined five major European banks in turning down the terminal expansion project.

In a 2014 report, Greenpeace estimated that when burned, the coal extracted annually at the Carmichael mine would create greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to the combined yearly emissions of Denmark, Ireland, and Sweden.

In addition to its impacts inland on species such as the ornamental snake and the yakka skink, as well as its potentially disastrous contribution to destabilizing the global climate, the Carmichael mine’s proposed operations also threaten the Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage Site that is home to thousands of species of marine animals and plants.

RELATED: Australia Commits to Saving the Great Barrier Reef—but Still Plans to Mine More Coal

Adani’s plan for enlarging Abbot Point Terminal would increase large ship traffic crossing over the reef by several hundred vessels a year. The Queensland government recently backed down from a plan to dump about 10 million cubic feet of dredging waste from the port expansion into Great Barrier Reef waters.

The federal Department of the Environment has not admitted any wrongdoing in green-lighting Adani’s plan, saying in an official statement that the approval had been voided “at the request of all the parties to the court proceedings” due to a “technical, administrative matter.”

Its opponents, however, suggested the decision represented a much greater setback for the mine project.

“The decision of the Court to set aside the Carmichael mine’s federal approval was based on a failure by the Minister to have regard to conservation advices for two federally listed vulnerable species,” said Sue Higginson of the legal group Environmental Defenders Office, which represented Mackay Conservation, in a statement. “This kind of error in the decision making process is legally fatal to the Minister’s decision.”

Mackay Conservation also argued in the case that the Abbot government had failed to consider what harm the pollution created by burning Carmichael mine coal would do to the global climate and environment. “However, these matters are left unresolved before the Court,” said Higginson.