Albanese government approves first new coalmine since taking power
The Australian government has approved a new coalmine development for the first time since it was elected last year.
Tanya Plibersek, the federal environment minister, indicated she would give the green light to the Isaac River coalmine in Queensland’s Bowen basin. It was announced late on Thursday.
The mine, to be developed by Bowen Coking Coal, is planned for 28km east of Moranbah, next to five other coalmines, and expected to produce about 500,000 tonnes of metallurgical coal a year for five years. Metallurgical coal, also known as coking coal, is used in steelmaking.
“The Albanese government has to make decisions in accordance with the facts and the national environment law – that’s what happens on every project, and that’s what’s happened here,” a spokesperson for Plibersek said.
“Since the election we’ve doubled renewable energy approvals to a record high. The government will continue to consider each project on a case-by-case basis, under the law.”
The government said no submissions had been received about the project during the public consultation period, including from environment groups.
But climate campaigners had made public statements calling on Plibersek to reject the mine in line with scientific advice that no new fossil fuel developments should go ahead if the world is to limit global heating to 1.5C.
“Scientists, energy and climate experts have said that the climate cannot afford new coalmines, and they’ve said it so many times I’ve lost count,” said Rod Campbell, research director at the Australia Institute.
“The fact that this is a small coking coalmine is beside the point – fossil carbon needs to stay in the ground. We’ve already got more than enough coalmines approved to cook the planet, including coking coalmines that could run into next century.
“This approval comes late in the evening in budget week, the perfect time for controversial news.”
The announcement comes a week after Plibersek cancelled two coal projects whose applications had lapsed.
Dr Coral Rowston, the director of EnvA (Environmental Advocacy) CQ, a grassroots group in central Queensland, said the project would affect habitat for the vulnerable ornamental snake.
“The other key issue for us is the mine will also leave a legacy for our water quality in central Queensland due to the release of affected water from sediment dams into the Isaac River which feeds into the Great Barrier Reef.”
Plibersek also plans to move three other projects – two in New South Wales and one in Queensland – to the next stage of the assessment process.
The three mines are among a group of 19 proposed new coal and gas projects that Environment Justice Australia, on behalf of the Environment Council of Central Queensland, had sought to have reconsidered and effectively rejected because of their potential greenhouse gas emissions.
“Today’s decision means minister Plibersek joins a long line of federal environment ministers who have said it’s not their job to consider the climate risk of new coal and gas mines,” the council’s president Christine Carlisle said.
The government found it could not stop the projects at this point in the process because national environmental laws state they would have to prove the emissions of a specific project would be a substantial cause of climate change effects on matters of national environmental significance.
Of the remaining 16 projects, five have been withdrawn by the developers or cancelled by the government due to lapsed applications. Thursday’s decision leaves 11 still to be reconsidered by Plibersek.
Environmental Justice Australia senior lawyer Retta Berryman said: “Our client is carefully considering all legal options in light of today’s decision – including one or more federal court challenges.”