Australian court overturns Adani coal mega-mine approval

Government failed to consider yakka skink and ornamental snake in permit for AU$16 billion Carmichael mine, judge finds

Abbot Point port is a gateway for coal from planned mines in the Galilee Basin (Pic: Greenpeace/Tom Jefferson)

Abbot Point port is a gateway for coal from planned mines in the Galilee Basin
(Pic: Greenpeace/Tom Jefferson)

By Megan Darby

Australia’s federal court revoked the approval of a AU$16 billion (US$12 bn) coal mining and railway project on Wednesday.

The environment department has to reconsider Indian conglomerate Adani’s case for the controversial Carmichael project, which could take six to eight weeks.

Green lawmakers urged the minister, Greg Hunt, to block the development, citing concerns about its impacts on the Great Barrier Reef and the climate.

“Adani’s Carmichael coal mine plan would have been a climate disaster and Reef destroyer,” said Senator Larissa Waters, Australian Greens deputy leader and climate spokesperson.

“With the coal price in structural decline and with India turning to renewable alternatives, it would be crazy for Adani to push ahead with this unviable project.

“However, if Adani does seek a new approval from the Abbott Government, Minister Hunt should do the right thing by Queensland and reject this climate disaster.”

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Carmichael is the biggest of several coal mines planned for Queensland’s Galilee Basin, its output destined for a new fleet of power stations in India.

The shipping route skirts the Great Barrier Reef, a delicate coral ecosystem that Unesco “notes with concern” is threatened by climate change and coastal development.

If the basin is fully developed, Greenpeace estimates the greenhouse gas emissions from burning the fuel will exceed the combined output of Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

Scientists at UCL, a UK university, calculate more than 90% of Australia’s known coal reserves need to stay in the ground to hold global warming to 2C, as internationally agreed.

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And economists at IEEFA have warned the project may not be commercially viable amid slumping coal prices and competition from solar power.

Adani has parted ways with advisers Commonwealth Bank, the Sydney Morning Herald reported, raising questions about its ability to attract investment.

The reason for the court’s decision was none of these things, but the mine’s impact on two vulnerable species: the yakka skink species of lizard, and the ornamental snake.

Environmental Defenders Office, which brought the challenge on behalf of Mackay Conservation Group, successfully argued Hunt had not heeded conservation advice.

“This kind of error in the decision making process is legally fatal to the Minister’s decision,” said EDO lawyer Sue Higginson.

“The case also alleged that the Minister failed to consider global greenhouse emissions from the burning of the coal, and Adani’s environmental history, however these matters are left unresolved before the Court.”

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Australia’s environment department described the ruling as a “technical, administrative matter” and said it would not need to revisit the whole approval process.

Prime minister Tony Abbott notoriously declared coal “good for humanity” and his administration has tried to smooth the path for mining companies.

This approach has seen Australia’s coal use and emissions jump in the past two months, Sydney Morning Herald reported. Canberra is due to submit a climate pledge to the UN in August.

But Higginson argued in a blog post it was “not a simple straight forward task” to legally approve the Carmichael mine.

“To describe the community win as a mere technical hitch is an affront to the rule of law and the substantive legal protections the law rightly provides for the environment,” she wrote.

While not a killer blow, the court ruling is another setback to the mining scheme amid intensifying opposition and doubts about its viability.

Adani insists it remains committed to the project, but its recent decision to suspend engineering work prompted speculation the conglomerate might be having second thoughts.

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