SOON Australians will be asked to take sides as the opposition to the Adani coal mine reaches a crucial crunch point.
The owners of the proposed Carmichael coal mine in Queensland are due to make a final decision on its future after six years of delay caused by legal challenges to the $21.7 billion project.
The State Government this week gave Adani the final approval it needs to go ahead with the mine, a water licence that will give it access to 9.5 billion litres of groundwater.
A Department of Natural Resources and Mines spokesman said modelling assessed by the department found up to 4.55 gigalitres of groundwater could be taken per year.
“In granting this licence, the Department of Natural Resources and Mines has carefully considered a broad range of information,” he told news.com.au in a statement.
He said Adani would have to fairly compensate landholders for impacts on water resources, and there were 100 conditions relating to groundwater.
On Friday, the head of Indian mining giant Adani said the company was ready to start construction this year.
Adani Mining chief executive Jeyakumar Janakaraj told a business lunch in Brisbane that the company expected to start engineering work on a rail line the mine needs to transport its coal to Abbott Point by June, and to start major construction by September.
While he was defending the mine against environmental concerns, about 200 protesters gathered outside the Hilton Hotel in Brisbane’s CBD to voice their opposition.
It’s just the first stage in what is expected to be a relentless battle.
While the “lawfare” may be wrapping up, environment groups say the matter is far from over, and will actually ramp up their efforts in coming months.
More than 4000 people attended #StopAdani roadshow events across Australia., with dozens of new groups forming to stop the mine from going ahead.
Former Greens leader Bob Brown is leading the next stage of the fight against the mine and has described the campaign as this generation’s Franklin River, referring to the decades-long protest movement that eventually stopped the Tasmanian river being dammed in 1983.
Alongside millionaire businessman Geoff Cousins, a former Howard government adviser, Mr Brown announced that 13 community groups would form the Stop Adani Alliance to oppose the mine.
If the previous track record of the two leaders is anything to go by, Adani should be very worried.
Mr Cousins was also involved in the successful campaign to stop the Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania and the proposed Woodside gas hub in the Kimberley.
Before he was the Greens leader, Mr Brown led the non-violent campaign against the Franklin Dam.
Now the duo have their sights set on Adani.
They are already being supported by prominent Australians including Australian Test cricket captains Ian and Greg Chappell, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks and rock group Midnight Oil, who signed a letter to Adani chairman Gautam Adani, urging him to abandon the project
Adani however rejected the demand as “a motivated attempt by a very small group of 76 misled people”, the Press Trust of India reported.
While there are a couple of outstanding legal issues, including an appeal in the Federal Court and a bill that needs to be passed in Parliament, the mine looks to be on track.
The last major government approval needed is a water licence and the State Government is expected to announce its decision in the next few days.
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland said the mine would be a big win for the state’s central and northern regions, particularly for Townsville where the project’s headquarters is expected to be located.
Charters Towers and Moranbah have also been earmarked as service centres for the mines, while Bowen is expected to be the base for rail construction.
“It’s about supporting our regions and not leaving them behind, creating new jobs and supporting our youth,” CCIQ policy adviser Catherine Pham said.
“Projects such as Adani is definitely a win for our regions, but all Queenslanders should see the positive economic impacts of the project once it kicks off.”
Not everyone agrees. GetUp environmental justice campaign director Miriam Lyons said Adani was a reckless company that threatened people’s lives and livelihoods across Australia.
“Their track record reveals they put profits ahead of people, every time. If Adani wins, the reef, our water and people everywhere will lose,” she said.
“They have avoided paying tax in Australia, preferring to hide their assets in the Cayman Islands. If the Turnbull Government can’t make them pay tax, how can we make sure they don’t ruin the Reef or wreck our water tables?
“It’s time someone actually stood up for farmers and tourism, they are billion-dollar industries that supply people with food, lasting employment, and the opportunity to access the Great Barrier Reef.”
This is what you need to know about this generation-defining project.
WHY ARE PEOPLE SO UPSET?
Once it’s built, the $21.7 billion Carmichael mine near Rockhampton will be one of the biggest in the world. It will include six open-cut pits and five underground mines across an area five times the size of Sydney Harbour.
Once it has been dug up, the coal will need to be transported to India. It will need to travel from the mine in central Queensland via a new 189 kilometre rail link, to a waterfront coal terminal at Abbot Point.
The giant mine will generate so much extra coal, the terminal south of Townsville will need to be expanded to accommodate it.
But there are concerns that the extra coal exports may damage the Great Barrier Reef as the terminal is located on the coastline of the heritage area.
The terminal, which stretches 2km out to the sea, already exports 50 million tonnes of coal per year, but expansion plans approved last year will more than double its capacity, allowing Adani to export an extra 70 million tonnes.
If Adani succeeds in getting a rail link built from its mine to the terminal built, other companies in the Galilee Basin will also be able to use it, and there are plans for another terminal at Abbot Point, which would add another 60 million tonnes of capacity.
There are also concerns that building such a huge mine will also impact the reef because of the emissions produced once the coal is burnt overseas for electricity.
Climate change has been identified as the most serious threat to the Great Barrier Reef, and in an article published in Nature this month, scientists warned that immediate global action to curb future global warming, was essential to securing a future for reefs.
The report came as scientists confirmed a second consecutive year of mass coral bleaching on the reef.
But Adani has rejected suggestions the mine will contribute to climate change.
“This project is a net positive impact on climate change in the world,” Adani Australia chief executive officer Jeyakumar Janakaraj said last year.
During his speech in Brisbane on Friday, Mr Janakaraj said the mine was vital in reducing India’s carbon footprint, with the higher quality Australian coal producing less pollution than that mined in India.
“The 20,000 megawatts of thermal energy (in India) needs a reliable source of good quality coal to keep the net impact to climate change neutral or lower,” Mr Janakaraj said.
“The thing about Carmichael is, it will reduce the carbon footprint of existing plants which are using Indonesian or Indian coal today, by say 30 to 40 per cent.”
But environmentalists are concerned that climate change impacts are not necessarily considered as part of the environmental assessment process for mines.
The Australian Conservation Foundation took Adani to the Federal Court to try and force the federal minister to consider climate change impacts from emissions that would be produced when the coal was burnt overseas for electricity.
But the court accepted the minister’s argument they would be managed through national and international agreements.
The ACF has appealed the decision, with a judgment expected in May or June.
ADANI’S WORRYING RECORD
Another thing that is causing concern among environmentalists is Adani’s controversial track record overseas.
The Indian company has been embroiled in illegal dealings, bribery, environmental and social devastation and allegations of corruption, fraud and money laundering, according to a legal research brief released by Environmental Justice Australia in February.
In one concerning incident, a ship carrying Adani coal sank and caused an oil and coal spill along Mumbai’s coast, which damaged tourism and polluted the marine environment. A court fined Adani $975,000 for the accident.
Adani was also ordered to pay $4.8 million after constructing Hajira Port without approval, which destroyed habitat, claimed land and blocked access to fishing communities.
The company has also been subject to long-running investigations into tax evasion and money laundering while trading in diamonds and gold jewellery.
“I deal daily with the devastating impacts of coal while working with some of India’s poorest people,” Indian environmental justice advocate Dr Vaishali Patil said.
“Adani tops the list of the worst companies I have come in contact with in my work.
“The damage that Adani has done to our people can’t be overstated: local fishing communities unable to access their fishing grounds; vast quantities of coal spilled into the oceans and not cleaned up for years, devastating local tourism, beaches and marine life. Adani’s mine must never be allowed to go ahead.”
EJA lawyer and report author Ariane Wilkinson pointed out that Adani also continued to mislead the Australian public about how many jobs would be created from its Carmichael mine.
Adani says 10,000 jobs created but the company’s economist admitted to the Land Court as part of a recent legal action, that the correct figure was in fact 1464 net jobs.
This lower figure used modelling that took into account the amount of jobs created once the jobs lost in other industries was also taken into account.
SHOULD TAXPAYERS FOOT THE BILL?
The project may also rely on the Federal Government giving the company a $1 billion concessional loan to help it build the 189 kilometre rail link required to transport the coal to Abbot Point.
The government is currently assessing whether to give Adani the loan through its $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.
But the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said the Australian government should be wary of putting taxpayers’ money into a project that global financial institutions including the Deutsche Bank are now refusing to fund.
IEEFA Director of Energy Finance Studies Tim Buckley said the mine could become a stranded asset as the economics of renewable energy start to stack up. Even Adani is planning to put $US10 million into renewable projects.
“Adani is central to a profound energy transition in India, which is on track to achieve a national 40 per cent renewable energy target by 2030, equivalent to 350GW, or around seven times Australia’s total electricity sector,” Mr Buckley said.
“The smart money on renewable energy.”
A GetUp poll released in January found 74.4 per cent of Australians disagreed with giving the mine access to concessional loans.
Adani has insisted the loan is not crucial to its project, despite this being one of the criteria to get a loan.
There are also concerns about the way the company has been set up and who gets the royalties.
Adani says the mine will generate $22 billion in taxes and royalties for Queensland.
But up to $120 million in royalties every year could also flow to a company in the Cayman Islands tax haven controlled by the Adani family, rather than to the Indian company building the mine.
Resource consultants Energy and Resource Insights highlighted the unusual way the company had been set up so that $2 from every tonne of coal (after the first 400,000 tonnes mined) will flow to the Adani family. This will be at the expense of the company shareholders.
“What this means is that one of the companies currently seeking up to $1 billion in public subsidy is going to profit to the tune of up to $3 billion if the mine goes ahead,” Energy Resource Insights principal researcher Adam Walters told ABC.
IS IT INEVITABLE?
Adani says work on the Carmichael mine will begin in August despite mounting opposition to the long-delayed project.
Company chairman Gautam Adani told a press conference in India recently that he was confident preliminary construction works would start in August 2017, with first exports to begin in 2020.
However, the project still faces some legal challenges and also requires the Federal Government to pass a controversial native title bill through parliament.
The bill was required after the Federal Court ruled in Western Australia that Indigenous Land Use Agreements had to be signed by all the applicants. Adani’s agreement with the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council did not get approval from all the 12 families represented.
The government was unable to pass the bill this week so won’t be able to consider it again until May or June.
The rise of renewables has also impacted the financial viability of the project, and a final investment decision by Adani is reportedly still pending.
— With AFPhttp://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/is-this-the-worst-mistake-australia-could-make/news-story/f461955f66050fb32f0c1717571399fa