Plans for a fiercely contested coal mine in northeastern Australia received a long-awaited government green light on Thursday, less than a month after conservative politicians who champion coal triumphed in national elections.
An environmental permit issued by the Queensland State government cleared the way for an Indian company, the Adani Group, to start work on the mine. The project had been tied up in court challenges and protests by environmentalists since it was first proposed eight years ago.
“Construction can now begin,” the company said Thursday on Twitter.
Adani, which is India’s largest importer of coal, had initially sought to extract 60 million tons of coal from the mine each year, but has since scaled back that target to around 10 million tons, at least in the initial phase of the project. All of the coal — to come from the vast, remote Galilee Basin in Queensland — would be transported to a port 200 miles away, or 320 kilometers, for export to India.
Environmentalists assailed the decision to issue the final permit, which was linked to groundwater management. The Australian Marine Conservation Society called it “bad news for coral and wildlife” in and around the Great Barrier Reef.
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“Climate change is the greatest threat to our reef’s future and we cannot risk opening up the Galilee Basin for other major coal projects which would heat our oceans and lead to more stress on our beautiful corals and reef,” the conservation society said in a statement.
The project had initially received support from both major parties at the state and federal levels, but the left-of-center Labor Party, which controls Queensland, later expressed doubts. The fate of the mine then became a point of contention between the country’s major parties in the lead-up to the May election, a test of what Australian lawmakers were willing to do to address climate change amid a year of unrelenting heat, drought and storms.
Ultimately, Australians re-elected the champions of coal, a right-of-center coalition of the Liberal Party and the National Party, helped by a surge of support in rural, coal-producing Queensland.
The site, to be known as the Carmichael mine, sits near a vast aquifer and a natural spring called Doongmabulla, which is sacred to Indigenous people in the area. How the company would manage the groundwater was the last question for Queensland environmental regulators. Two weeks ago, state regulators approved the penultimate environmental clearance, over the fate of a rare bird.
The final permit came just a day after the federal government acknowledged that it had failed to consider public comment on a plan submitted by the company to draw water from a river for the proposed mine.
On Thursday, the chief executive of the Adani’s Australian division, Lucas Dow, estimated that the first coal would be shipped in two years. “We’re really excited about it and we’re now looking forward to getting on with construction,” he said.
The state permit was praised by the federal resources minister, Matthew Canavan, who has been an ardent supporter of the project. “Things come to those who wait,” he said on Twitter.
Somini Sengupta covers international climate issues and is the author of "The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India's Young." @SominiSengupta • Facebook
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