Embattled Indian mining company Adani late yesterday released the environmental impact statement outlining its plan to expand the Abbot Point Port near Bowen, Queensland, to be the largest coal terminal in the world as a controversial mine linked to the port expansion takes centre stage in a political stoush this week.
The Abbot Point Port proposal has already attracted controversy because it will suck up 1.1 million cubic metres of seabed from the Great Barrier Reef, which will then see ships loaded with hundreds of millions of tonnes of coal pass through its waters each year.
Two earlier plans — to dump the dredged seabed in reef waters and, after that was rejected, the sensitive Calley Valley Wetlands — have already been dismissed after they provoked an intense community backlash, legal challenges, and became a hotly contested issue at the recent Queensland election.
Announcing the release of the plans today Queensland Mines Minister Anthony Lynham said that the government “are putting dredged material on port land next to the existing terminal, and minimising impacts to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area by ruling out at-sea disposal”.
That land is located adjacent to the Calley Valley Wetlands, which provide habitat for a number of endangered species, and conservation groups remain concerned that the project will further stress the Great Barrier Reef.
The reef is in poor and deteriorating health having lost half its coral cover in the last 30 years, and the project is likely to come under intense scrutiny during the one month exhibition period at a state level, which will be followed by a formal application for approval by the Commonwealth government.
The Chief Executive Officer of climate advocacy group 350.org, http://350.org/Blair Palese, said it is time governments “let this fizzer of a project go” amidst growing concerns that it will never turn a profit.
“The Federal and Queensland Government’s relentless efforts to support Adani’s proposal is reckless on every level,” said Palese, whose organisation has been involved in lobbying against Adani’s massive Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin and the associated Abbot Point Port.
“We’ve seen 13 international banks publicly rule out Adani’s ill-fated proposal, and even Adani itself has recently fired six contractors and several of its own Australian staff,” Palese said. “This is a white elephant of a project and everyone knows it; the banks know it, even Adani knows it.
“So when is our Government going to see the writing on the wall and finally stop putting the future of our reef in jeopardy?”
However far from dropping its support for the project the Federal Government has used its own bungle — the failure of the Environment Minister to consider conservation advice relating to two endangered species — to launch an extraordinary attack on environmentalists which it claims are “sabotaging” big coal through legal action.
“People from coast-to-coast and from around the world have come out against this project, but instead of taking the responsible path to securing a safe future for our reef and climate, Tony Abbott’s government is working hard to gut the very environmental protection laws that keep our air, water, and climate safe for our families,” Palese said.
Although it appears to have a slim chance of success the Abbott Government will today introduce a Bill to the House of Reps to limit the community’s ability to challenge the administration of national environmental law by the Environment Minister in light of the Federal Court rescinding Adani’s Carmichael mine approval.
Greenpeace Reef Campaigner Shani Tager also slammed the proposal arguing that “opening the environmental impact statement period now illustrates the bloody-mindedness of the Queensland and Federal governments to push ahead with the development of the Galilee coal basin at all costs”.
“This is an example of the government bullishly and willfully ignoring community opposition,” Tager said.
“Our environmental laws are designed to guard against such behaviour by the state [but]the Abbott Government are wanting to advance projects that threaten the reef at the same time as trying to gut our environmental laws.”
“We can’t afford to let the reef be at the mercy of the Abbott Government’s attacks on the environment,” Tager said.
The World Wildlife Fund has also questioned why, “with far too much uncertainty surrounding [Carmichael] mine”, the Queensland and Federal governments are keen to push ahead with the port expansion.
“The only justification for the port expansion is a mine that is looking increasingly doubtful,” said WWF Reef campaigner Richard Leck.
“Why risk building a white elephant, that will damage the inshore environment, for a mine that might never happen?
“To expand the port, 61 hectares of seabed will be ripped up creating 1.1 million cubic metres of dredge spoil.
“But the destruction doesn’t end there,” Leck said, “damaging dredge plumes will be created harming sea grass and potentially reaching nearby reefs”.
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