Australian court revokes approval for Adani’s $16.5 bn coal mine project

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Sydney | Updated: Aug 05, 2015 11:58 AM

Adani's plan to build one of the world's largest coal mines in Australia today suffered a setback after a court revoked the govt's environmental approval for the $16.5 bn project.

Adani Enterprises, SBI, SBI Adani loan, Adani Australian coal field, State Bank of IndiaGautam Adani’s Australian coal mine project was hit by political and environmental opposition over the potential environmental impact. (Reuters)

Indian mining giant Adani, led by Chairman Gautam Adani, planned to build one of the world’s largest coal mines in Australia, but suffered a setback today after a court in the country revoked the government’s environmental approval for $16.5 billion project.

Adani‘s environmental authority has been set aside after the court found Environment Minister Greg Hunt had not properly considered advice about two threatened species – the yakka skink and the ornamental snake in the Galilee basin, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Environmentalists hailed the federal court’s ruling against the controversial Carmichael mine as another setback for the project.

The latest decision was announced by the court following the case filed by Mackay Conservation Group which launched the challenge earlier this year.

Sue Higginson, who represented the Mackay Conservation Group, said there was now no legal approval for the mine in central Queensland.

The group said the judgment ruled the approval by Environment Minister was invalid on environmental grounds.

“What can happen from here is the Minister can re-make his decision, and of course in re-making that decision he can approve the mine again following the proper legal procedures, or he can refuse the mine; that is the legal power open to the Minister,” Higginson said.

“What our client says is that if the Minster wants to reconsider approving the mine there is a plethora of new evidence and information about that mine, so it will be no simple task to simply re-approve that mine.

“So really, the Carmichael mine is in a state of legal uncertainty,” Higginson said.

“With the consent of the parties, the Federal Court has formally set aside the approval of the Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project,” the Environment Department said in a statement.

“This is a technical, administrative matter and to remove this doubt, the department has advised that the decision should be reconsidered,” the statement said.

“Reconsidering the decision does not require revisiting the entire approval process.

“Without pre-empting a final decision about the project, the department expects that it will take six to eight weeks to prepare its advice and the supporting documentation, and for the Minister to reconsider his final decision.”

Responding to the new ruling, Adani, which recently suspended work in a number of areas on the mine as it awaits government approvals, attributed the ruling to a “technical legal error” and said it was confident the matter would be rectified.

The company said it was committed to ensuring its mine, rail and port projects in Queensland are developed and operated in accordance with Commonwealth and State laws and regulations, including strict environmental conditions.

“Adani acknowledges the Federal Environment Minister has consented to remake the July 2014 environmental approval decision for the Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail project after a conservation group’s judicial review application,” the statement said.

“It is regrettable that a technical legal error from the Federal Environment Department has exposed the approval to an adverse decision. It should be noted the approval did include appropriate conditions to manage the species protection of the yakka skink and ornamental snake,” the firm said in a statement.

“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.

“Adani will await the Minister and his department’s timely reconsideration of its approval application under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act,” the statement said.

Adani said that it was confident the conditions imposed on the existing approval are robust and appropriate once the technicality is addressed.

Adani is in the fifth year of development and approvals and the need to finalise these approvals and timelines is critical so Adani and the community can realise the benefits associated with its investments to date including 10,000 jobs and 22 billion dollar in taxes and royalties to be reinvested back into the community, it noted.

Environmentalists in the country hailed the decision.

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

“This white elephant of a project threatened our tourism and agricultural industries and would have slowed down our transition to a clean energy economy. The future for Queensland is not the dying coal industry, which is shedding jobs, but renewable energy, which the (Tony) Abbott Government needs to stop holding back,” Waters said.

“Hunt based his approval on jobs and royalty figures provided by Adani, which Adani later admitted in court were grossly exaggerated.”

“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,” she said.

Ellen Roberts, Coordinator of Mackay Conservation Group, said, “The scale and impacts of this mine mean it would be the most damaging in Australian history. The proponent, Adani, has flouted the law and recklessly destroyed the environment in India.”

“In Australia, Carmichael would be the driver for the huge coal port the company plans to build on the Great Barrier Reef.”

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