Australia knocks back major coal project near Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef. (Image: Lock the Gate Alliance | Flickr Commons.)

Australia’s new government rejected plans for a major coal project near the Great Barrier Reef, marking a sharp change in policy in one of the biggest exporters of the polluting fossil fuel.

Minister for Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek said Thursday that she intended to not approve mining tycoon Clive Palmer’s Central Queensland Coal project due to the likelihood of “unacceptable impacts” on the world heritage site. It’s the first time an Australian minister has refused a coal mine under the country’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, her office said.

The announcement comes on the same day Australia’s lower house of parliament passed legislation to cut the country’s emissions by 43% from 2005 levels by 2030 in a major policy victory for the Labor government that came to power in May after a climate-focused election. There is a 10-day period of public comment on the decision and the proponents of the mine were contacted, Pilbersek said.

Central Queensland Coal didn’t immediately respond to a phone call and email for comment.

The project would have consisted of an open-cut mine extracting as much as 10 million tons of thermal and coking coal a year and have a lifespan of about 24 years, according to the Queensland government. An environmental impact assessment carried out by the Queensland state government in April 2021 had already determined a number of potential risks to the reef if the project went ahead.

Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of metallurgical coal and only trails Indonesia in shipments of thermal coal. The nation produced 256 million tons of thermal coal in the year through June and 170 million tons of metallurgical coal.

(By Ben Westcott)

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