In the wake of the Federal Court rescinding Commonwealth approval for Australia’s largest ever coal mine yesterday conservation groups are calling for Environment Minister Greg Hunt to consider new information about the endangered Black Throated Finch.
The bird measures just 12 centimetres in length and weighs in at a tiny 15 grams, and evidence that came before the Queensland Land Court earlier this year indicated Adani’s massive Carmichael coal mine would destroy its most important global stronghold.
The Black Throated Finch is believed to be extinct in New South Wales. One of only two known population in the world – near Townsville on Queensland’s eastern coast – hosts around 200 birds.
The Townsville population is in decline but in 2013 a PhD candidate from James Cook University observed a flock of 400 finches near 10 Mile Bore on Adani’s mine lease area in the Galilee Basin, hundreds of kilometres inland from the Townsville site.
In a formal legal request to have the minister consider this information, dated July 17 this year, the Australian Conservation Foundation said “it was only as a result of the two Black Throated Finch experts’ involvement in this case that the size and significance of the population on the mining lease area and near surrounds became clear”.
“All of the work done for the preceding environmental impact statement on behalf of Adani had failed to properly recognise the significance of the population,” the letter said.
“One of the things [Adani] said around the siting at 10 Mile Bore was that there was a flock of around 100 birds when actually the siting was around 400 birds, so that’s significantly more animals,” said Samantha Vine, Head of Conservation at BirdLife Australia.
Her organisation also wrote to Hunt on Friday calling on him to reconsider his approval of the mine, which he issued in July last year.
As part of the conditions of that approval Adani is required to ‘offset’ – or buy up habitat that is demonstrably the same as that which will be destroyed by the Carmichael coal mine – to compensate for its impact on the endangered species.
“Basically they’ve based their offset proposal on a hope and a dream, really, because there’s never been any evidence of recreating Black Throated Finch habitat and much of the potential habitat in the Galilee is actually under mineral exploration licenses,” Vine said.
“With the minister re-assessing Carmichael now he needs to take on this new information about the finch.”
— ACF (@AusConservation) August 4, 2015
The Federal Court rescinded Adani’s approval yesterday because Hunt failed to take proper account of ‘conservation advice’ in relation to two other threatened species, the Yakka Skink and Ornamental Snake.
It’s been described as a “legal loophole” by the Queensland Minerals Council and a “technical, administrative matter” by the Department of Environment, which said the question of whether Adani will have its approval reinstated is expected to be resolved within two months.
Environmental groups have seized on the developments to escalate their campaigns to stop the Carmichael mine, which is seen as a critical ‘first mover’ that would open up the wider Galilee Basin to coal mining, unleashing carbon emissions greater than those produced by the United Kingdom or South Africa.
Under national environmental law Hunt has the power to scrap the approval or demand more stringent conditions over the finch because new information has come to light since he made his decision.
During the Land Court case earlier this year Adani’s experts cast serious doubt over the credibility of the company’s plans.
Its own expert witness was critical of survey methods used and agreed that the offsets proposed by Adani “would not necessarily have the capacity to take all the birds”.
The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer, Kelly O’Shanassy, said that the “new evidence provides more compelling reasons why this mine should never be dug” and called on Hunt to scrap the project, which is linked to plans for a massive increase in shipping through the Great Barrier Reef.
“If our laws can’t protect the most important habitat on the planet for this bird we need to look at something else,” Vine said.
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