Australia Approves Massive Coal Mine—Again

The move comes two months after a court ruled that the government failed to consider the project’s impact on endangered species.
(Photo: Fairfax Media/Getty Images)
Oct 17, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Just two months after an Australian federal court threw out the government’s approval of one of the world’s largest coal mines because of its expected impact on an endangered snake and lizard, the country’s environment minister has green-lighted the project again.

That means the Indian-owned Carmichael mine in the state of Queensland is back on track to produce an amount of coal that, when burned, would exceed the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 52 countries. Over its 60-year lifetime, it could emit 128 million tons of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, according to a Greenpeace report. Environmentalists also fear the project will damage the iconic Great Barrier Reef.

“Minister [Greg] Hunt’s reapproval risks threatened species, precious groundwater, the global climate, and taxpayers’ money,” said Peter McCallum, spokesperson for the Mackay Conservation Group, which brought the challenge of the mine to the federal court.

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In August, a federal court ruled that then Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s conservative government had illegally ignored evidence showing the mine would damage prime habitat of two endangered critters: the yakka skink—a type of lizard—and the ornamental snake.

Hunt said his reapproval comes with “36 rigorous conditions” that will protect the threatened species, monitor impacts on groundwater supplies, and establish 76,000 acres of habitat for the southern black-throated finch, a bird the Mackay group says could be pushed to extinction if the mine goes forward.

“The rigorous conditions will protect threatened species and provide long-term benefits for the environment through the development of an offset package,” Hunt said in a statement. “These measures must be approved by myself before mining can start.”

Hunt had originally approved the project in July 2014.

The Carmichael mine is just one of seven massive mines planned for Queensland’s coal belt. If they’re all approved, they could become the seventh-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, behind China, the United States, India, Russia, Japan, and Germany.

To get the coal out of the country, the government has an expanded rail line and shipping terminal in the works. Dredging the port poses a threat to the Great Barrier Reef, home to the largest stretch of coral reef on the planet and more than 1,500 fish species. The increased coal ship traffic also raises the risk of reef-damaging oil spills.

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The port expansion plans now have to comply with Australia’s recent 35-year agreement with the United Nations to restore the Great Barrier Reef. Australia pledged to reduce agricultural runoff affecting the reef by 80 percent before 2025. The accord still allows 3 million cubic meters of dredging but prohibits the dumping of rocks, dirt, and sediment on nearby reefs.