The government of the Australian state of Queensland has approved a controversial coal mining project that scientists and environmental groups worry may harm the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest collection of coral formations.
Queensland Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Anthony Lynham recently approved the grant of three individual mining leases for the $21.7 billion Carmichael mining project, which would extract about 60 million tons of coal each year from the inland Galilee Basin. Adani, the Indian energy company that will build and operate the mine, describes it as "a core component of Adani's plans for delivering energy security in India, as well as pursing export opportunities in other Asian markets."
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To handle those coal exports, the port at Abbott Point, which is next to the reef, would be expanded, according to New Scientist. Environmentalists fear that could release plumes of soil and debris over the reef, damaging a delicate ecosystem. Worse yet, they say, eventually burning all of that coal would put a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. helping to drive the climate change that's raising sea temperatures and causing the reef to deteriorate. (Here is a sobering Australian government report on the reef's increasingly fragile health.)
Charlie Veron, former chief scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science and one of the world's leading experts on coral reefs, denounced the approval.
"It defies reason," Veron, who has discovered 20 percent of the world's coral species, told the Sydney Morning Herald. "I think there is no single action that could be as harmful to the Great Barrier Reef as the Carmichael coal mine."
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The project is also opposed by the Australian Conservation Foundation, which is challenging the legality of previous approvals by Australia's national government, which it says violate Australia's international obligations to protect the World Heritage-listed reef. The case will be heard in a court in Brisbane in early May.
Queensland environmental minister Lynham has said that numerous environment-protecting conditions have been placed on the project already.
According to the Herald, more than a dozen of the world's major banks have declined to fund the project.