Canberra, Apr 9: Despite Australian Greens' fierce opposition, the country's Environment Minister Melissa Price has given the green light to the Adani Coal Mine's groundwater management plans.
The decisions mark the final construction approval from the Federal Government, according to an ABC News report on Tuesday. The Environment Minister was under pressure from Queensland colleagues to sign off on the plans before the government calls the election and enters caretaker mode. Ms Price said in a statement that she had accepted the advice of the CSIRO and Geo science Australia, which both gave the green light to Adani's revised plans.
"This project has been subject to the most rigorous approval process of any mining project in Australia," she said. The Queensland Government is yet to approve construction as it seeks to protect a colony of black-throated finches around the mine site. Even if construction is fully signed off, the project still requires more approvals to be granted from the Queensland and Commonwealth governments before coal can be dug out of the ground.
The Coalition has been split over the project — rural Queensland MPs have been strongly supportive, while urban Liberals have worried it could damage their electoral chances. The Opposition has been walking a similar political tightrope as it seeks to capture seats in central Queensland while holding off inner-city Greens challengers. Planning Australia's biggest mine: Step through the key events in the planning of Australia's biggest mining project, the Carmichael coal mine in remote central Queensland.
Labor leader Bill Shorten on Tuesday gave a strong indication that the ALP would not reverse any environmental approvals, if elected. "We've got to see what the Queensland Government does," Mr Shorten said.
"We'll just adhere to the law, we're not interested in sovereign risk … we'll just be guided by the law and by the science."Adani Mining chief executive officer Lucas Dow welcomed the Commonwealth's decision, saying underground water levels would be tracked using more than 100 monitoring bores. "The measures outlined in the plans will ensure groundwater at the mine, and the ecosystems that depend on it, are protected," Mr Dow said.
Government scientists unhappy with Adani's modelling: The CSIRO and Geoscience Australia said the modelling used by Adani was "not suitable", and also cast doubt over the company's plans to protect important environments. "A number of limitations were also identified in the proposed monitoring and management approaches, indicating they are not sufficiently robust to monitor and minimise impacts to protected environments," the agencies' report said.
Ms Price only approved the plans after the company agreed to: (i) Boost early warning monitoring systems between the mine and the nearby Doongmabulla Springs wetland, (ii) Respond immediately to any unexpected groundwater impact, (iii) Repeat modelling works within two years of coal being extracted, (iv) "This process reflects our commitment to ensuring robust environmental protection while balancing the needs of Australia's economy," the minister said.
The Australian Conservation Foundation said Australians should be "deeply sceptical about the process that led to this decision". "CSIRO has raised significant concerns about the limitations of Adani's plans, including that it may have lowballed the amount of groundwater drawdown that will occur," spokesman Christian Slattery said. "Coal-loving Coalition MPs appear to have strongarmed the Environment Minister into granting Adani access to Queensland's precious groundwater on the eve of the election."
Media reports detail LNP senator James McGrath threatening to call for Ms Price to be sacked if she does not sign off on the final Commonwealth approval for the controversial project. Environmental lawyers flagged appealing against the approval, saying such a personal threat could compromise the process.
"Such a political threat puts a cloud over Minister Price's possible decisions on Adani," Jo-Anne Bragg from the Queensland Environmental Defenders Office said.
The Australin Greens have been opposing the project for a long time. Their Senator Larissa Waters said the news is devastating, but the election will be called in the coming days and with people's help their party can make sure this coal mine doesn’t go ahead.
She said the Liberal and Labor parties since 2012 have $8.2 million in donations from fossil fuel companies like Adani. "In return, these vested interests have locked the major parties in to having no plan to deal with coal and no plan to ban new coal mines," she said. "Unlike the major parties, we refuse to take donations from big corporations who want to influence us. Instead we are powered by contributions from thousands of individuals just like you who want to see real action on climate change."
"It’s so important that we re-elect our MPs this election, so there is a strong Greens voice in the Senate to fight for action on climate change and to stop the next government from caving in to Adani. But to keep up with the multi-million dollar budgets of the major parties we need your help," she further said.