Two coal mines have been cancelled by Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek after they failed to address environmental concerns. Both proposals were for coal mines in Queensland.
Both applicants were asked by previous governments to provide more information to address environmental concerns.
Neither applicant has done so, which gives Plibersek the power to declare the applications have ‘lapsed’. This is not the same as a formal rejection but the proposals are now unlikely to proceed.
Coal mine approval powers
The Environment Minister has the power to evaluate construction projects on the basis of their environmental impact.
This applies to a wide range of projects such as housing developments, roads and coal mines.
The Minister does not consider the likely climate impact of a proposal – instead, the powers relate to biodiversity concerns such as damage to a species or habitat.
Last year, Plibersek became the first Environment Minister to reject a coal mine under these powers – Clive Palmer’s Central Queensland Coal Project.
The coal mines
The first project was the Range coal mine in central Queensland, proposed by the company Stanmore in 2011. In 2013, Stanmore was asked to address concerns about the proposal’s impact on threatened species and water resources. It has not done so despite indicating in writing in 2020 it still wished to progress with the mine.
The second project was the China Stone coal mine, also in central Queensland, proposed by Macmines Australia. It would have produced almost as much coal as the controversial Adani Carmichael coal mine. In 2018, it was also asked to address concerns about threatened species and water resources and has also not done so.
Plibersek cancels coal mines
The Environment Minister has the power to put an end to an application if an applicant doesn’t provide requested information within a reasonable period.
Plibersek announced today she would end both applications on these grounds. She told TDA she had “zero tolerance for businesses who refuse to provide adequate information… If companies aren’t willing to show how they will protect nature, then I’m willing to cancel their projects – and that’s exactly what I’ve done.”
The applicants could choose to apply again but would need to begin from scratch, a process which can take several years.
Shadow Environment Minister Jonathon Duniam said the news was “disappointing… but unsurprising”, noting that both projects had stalled since 2020.
Duniam accused Plibersek of “trying to pretend that she is making big announcements” on projects that would not have proceeded anyway and criticised her “ongoing glee” about cancelling projects which “remain crucial to our national economy”.
He also suggested Australia’s environmental approval process was “ridiculously long”.