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Australia approves coal mine near Great Barrier Reef

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Christian Fernsby |
Great Barrier Reef in Australia
Australia   Great Barrier Reef in Australia

Australia approved the construction of a controversial coal mine near the Great Barrier Reef.

Queensland’s government said it had accepted a groundwater management plan for the Indian-owned Adani Group’s Carmichael mine the last major legal hurdle before construction could begin.

The vast open-cut mine is slated to produce millions of tonnes of coal a year, boosting Australia’s already vast exports by about 20 percent.

Coupled with the construction of a railway link, it could open up a swathe of Queensland to further exploitation and new mining projects.

“If all the coal in the Galilee Basin is burnt it would produce 705 million tonnes of climate pollution each year, which is more than 1.3 times Australia’s annual pollution from all sources, including cars, industry, energy and agriculture,” the Australian Conservation Foundation said.

In the emissions stakes, Australia is a minnow compared with the bellowing economies of China or the US, but its role as the world’s largest coal exporter gives the country outsized influence in the climate stakes.

Conservationists also say that the mine threatens vulnerable local species and means coal would have to be shipped from a port near the World Heritage-listed Barrier Reef.

Supporters say it would bring thousands of much-needed jobs to rural Queensland.

Construction work would begin within days and last about two years, allowing the first lump of coal to be sold in about 2021, Adani said.

“We are looking forward to getting going,” Adani Mining Pty chief executive officer Lucas Dow said.

Thursday’s decision draws a line under a rancorous debate, which reached boiling point during the latest Australian general election.

Victory for the incumbent conservative Liberal Party had virtually assured the project would go ahead.

In Queensland, voters swung hard to the government, fearing a Labor government would curb mining projects and cost them jobs.

Yet debate is likely to continue, and some believe the mine is not yet a certainty.

While the Queensland state approval permits preliminary construction, the firm must obtain some federal approvals before it can begin extracting coal.

The company would also have to contend with low coal prices and a global shift to renewable energy, which could make the project less profitable.

Financing has already been a problem, with the company rejected by many fossil-fuel-wary institutions and forced to fund itself.

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