For the first time in Australian history, a federal environment minister has set the wheels in motion to reject a coal mine.
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has proposed the rejection of Clive Palmer’s Central Queensland Coal Project on the grounds it is likely to damage the Great Barrier Reef.
The decision remains a “proposal” because a final decision can only be made after 10 days of further consultation, including public comment. But given the wide range of reasons cited by the minister, it is unlikely to be approved.
The planned mining site is just 10 kilometers from the Great Barrier Reef near Rockhampton, and was likely to have contributed to ocean pollution, according to the minister.
“Based on the information available to me at this stage, I believe that the project would be likely to have unacceptable impacts to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and the values of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and National Heritage Place,” Ms Plibersek said.
The decision was also based on potential impacts to local water resources.
Although it is the first time a federal environment minister has proposed to reject an application to develop a coal mine, the Queensland government recommended the rejection last year.
The move was announced the same day the government passed its climate bill through the lower house, with the support of the cross bench including the Greens.
The Greens have been pushing the government to reject all coal and gas projects while the government has said it will approve those that stack up environmentally.
“That’s now one down and 113 to go. There’s 114 of these projects in the pipeline,” Greens leader Adam Bandt said.
The Greens have also been pushing for a “climate trigger” that would require the potential impacts of coal and gas projects on climate change to be considered by the environment minister. As it stands, the potential climate change impact of this mine was not considered in the approval process.
Conservationists, activists glad minister ‘listened to warnings’
The preliminary decision was applauded by conservationists and climate activists.
“This is the right proposed decision for the Great Barrier Reef from the environment minister,” Cherry Muddle from the Australian Marine Conservation Society said.
“We are glad she has listened to warnings from government-appointed and independent scientists, as well as the Queensland government who said the mine was ‘not suitable’ to proceed in April 2021.
“In the wake of the fourth mass bleaching event on the reef since 2016, it is vital new coal and gas projects like this one are refused. It shows the government are serious about saving the reef and tackling the issues that threaten it.”
The proposed project included two open-cut pits north of Rockhampton over an area of more than 2,660 hectares.
The detailed reasons for the proposed decision have not yet been released, but included impacts on a world heritage area, and on-water resources. The project’s potential impacts on threatened species was not listed as a reason for rejection.
The public has 10 days to comment on the proposed decision.
Mr Palmer’s company Central Queensland Coal was not available for comment.
The Queensland government concluded in 2021 the mine would generate royalties for the state of between $703 million and $766 million in total.