Carmichael hits big hitch in federal disapproval
The Federal Court has overturned Adani's federal environmental approval to build the Carmichael coal mine – a resounding win for environmentalists, but their joy might be short-lived.
The court found Environment Minister Greg Hunt did not properly consider advice about two threatened species – the yakka skink and the ornamental snake – when he gave the Indian mining giant the green light.
For many, the legal proceedings revealed much more than just the risk to native fauna.
The trial offered a range of revelations about the Carmichael plan, including that;
- it had vastly overestimated the amount of jobs that the mine would create (proponent Adani said it would employ 10,000 people, but the court heard that number would be closer to 1,400)
- it would be granted an almost free ride in regard to royalties and taxes
- it would lead to carbon emissions equivalent to those of the entire Australian transport, aviation and trucking sector (when burned, the mine's coal will produce 120 million tonnes of CO2 per year)
These criticisms are added to previous concerns about Adani's treatment of its own workers (Greenpeace PDF), and exorbitant levels of debt in Australia.
This week's result comes after the Mackay Conservation Group launched a Federal Court challenge in January which alleged that greenhouse gas emissions from the mine, vulnerable species and Adani's environmental track record were ignored in Mr Hunt’s consideration.
“The Minister conceded that he had made an error and Adani did as well that the proper process hadn't been followed in approving the Carmichael mine,” Mackay Conservation Group coordinator Ellen Roberts said.
“He is required to take advice from his department on threatened species into account and he didn't do that.”
“A lot of new information has emerged since Greg Hunt made his approval and we call on him to now reject the mine.”
The plan to build the coal mine with a 60 million tonne annual capability has been loudly decried by a range of conservation and environmental groups.
This was largely due to the proximity of coal terminals at Abbot Point to the Great Barrier Reef, and the risks of greatly increased shipping traffic that would have been required.
The plan was praise by members of both sides of politics, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott declaring it a miracle for India's poor that would lift millions out of poverty.
The Federal Environment Department says the overturning of the approval was a mere “technicality”.
“Reconsidering the decision does not require revisiting the entire approval process,” a departmental statement said.
The Environment Department, Greg Hunt’s office, Queensland's Labor government and Adani all say it is a small administrative matter, one which will be resolved as soon as possible.
Adani blames errors by the environment department for the court’s finding.
“It is regrettable that a technical legal error from the Federal Environment Department has exposed the approval to an adverse decision,” an Adani spokesperson told Fairfax reporters.
“It should be noted the approval did include appropriate conditions to manage the species protection of the yakka skink and ornamental snake.
“However, we have been advised that, because certain documents were not presented by the Department in finalising the approval, it created a technical legal vulnerability that is better to address now.”
But Mr Hunt’s department says it followed the “longstanding practice” of providing advice to Mr Hunt, who made his decision after “fully considering all of the Department's advice”.
“Subsequently the Department has advised that there is a possibility that the advice should have been provided in a particular manner. This is a technical, administrative matter and to remove this doubt, the department has advised that the decision should be reconsidered,” the statement said.
The department says it will take up to 2 months to draft new advice for the minister's consideration.
The court's ruling is a big new hurdle for the project, and there are now serious questions about whether or not it will proceed.
With the Indian government announcing that it would reduce its coal imports in coming years, and the significant drop in the value of coal in the years since the mine was first proposed, many are speculating that Adani will want to walk away.
Recent reports had revealed that Adani is sacking staff at its Brisbane headquarters, has suspended project manager Parsons Brinckerhoff, as well as ditching construction partner and potential investor Posco, and four engineering firms.
But even this week, Queensland Mines Minister Anthony Lynham continued to praise the project.
“We are extremely disappointed that there has been this delay to Adani in the Galilee Basin,” he said.
“Jobs are so important to the people of Queensland and Adani will bring jobs to a very needed area of Queensland, central Queensland and we look forward to those jobs being produced.
“We are asking the federal government, we are asking the federal environment minister to sort this out as quickly as possible.”
Environmentalists now wait to see what manoeuvres the various authorities will pull in order to get the project going again.