Burke gives Alpha the green light

THE federal government has approved GVK-Hancock’s $6.5 billion Alpha thermal coal project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin but animosity remains between federal Environment Minister Tony Burke and the Queensland government over approval times for projects.
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Proposed rail options for the Alpha Coal Project in the Galilee Basin, Queensland.

Lou Caruana

Indian giant GVK welcomed the government’s decision, which came after Burke said he would “stop the clock’ on the approval process because he believed Queensland’s handling of it was “shambolic”.

“Ultimately, we believe the overall assessment process has resulted in best practice environmental protection outcomes," chairman GVK Reddy said.

Alpha, which will export 30 million tonnes per annum using a 495km rail link to Abbot Point, was controversial because it was claimed that it would endanger the Great Barrier Reef.

Burke said the approval has been granted with 19 strict conditions directed specifically at ensuring matters of national environmental significance are protected, including the Great Barrier Reef.

"My approval follows a rigorous assessment process after I was forced to step in and complete the assessment. This has ensured the highest standards of environmental regulation were applied to this project,'' he said.

"While the decision has taken an additional three months since the Queensland coordinator general's report was released, I'm satisfied that we have now put in place the required additional conditions for the protection of the environment including the Great Barrier Reef.

"I was determined to ensure that the risks to the environment such as impacts on threatened species, threats to the Great Barrier Reef and the potential for coal dust impacts and runoff were properly dealt with.

"My approval conditions have been set to address these concerns including a higher quantity of offsets for impacts on threatened species, and ensuring that industry best practice is adhered to and that strict threshold limits for coal dust impacts on the reef are met through the provision of covered wagons or equivalent and in the Caley Valley management plan.”

Burke said he ensured that management plans were put in place to ensure stormwater and runoff or coal dust impact from the project is managed to minimise sediment into the Burdekin Dam and onto the Great Barrier Reef.

"My decision has been based on a thorough and rigorous assessment of the proposal taking into account the advice of my department and independent scientific advice,” he said.

"While I have considered the social and economic implications of this project, my focus has been on protecting matters of national environmental significance through strict conditions, including a significant offsets package.

"In making this decision I took advice from members of the interim independent expert scientific committee on coal seam gas and coal mining, which made recommendations related to groundwater impacts in the Galilee Basin and surface water impacts in the Burdekin catchment."

Queensland Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning Jeff Seeney called on the federal government to move quickly on the approvals process for the South of Embley mine after the Alpha coal project approval.

"Mr Burke said today he had no other Queensland projects on his desk. Well, South of Embley has been sitting there since May 23 when Queensland approved it," Seeney said.

"The federal minister has taken that mine back to square one in the approvals process based on misinformation about shipping movements supplied to him by the greens movement.”

The Queensland coordinator general approved the Alpha project and sent his approval to the federal minister on May 31, Seeney said.

"It has taken 59 business days since then for the federal government to give its approval – a relatively short timeframe for the Commonwealth which has taken more than 500 business days to make a decision in previous instances," he said.

The Commonwealth EPBC Act provides 30 business days for the federal decision-making process.

“This government will continue to work with industry, we will continue to get good environmental outcomes and good employment outcomes for Queensland, but no matter how many times you ask, if you want to indulge in environmental corner cutting, shambolic process and environmental vandalism, we will have none of it,” Burke said.