CANBERRA, Australia—Australia’s conservative government plans to amend environmental laws to prevent green groups from challenging mining projects in which they have no direct involvement.
Opening another front in what has been a long-running battle with environmental movement, Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane told Parliament on Tuesday that “there is a strategy to destroy jobs,” and resource projects were being blocked by activists “regardless of the economic impact on the community.”
The push to amend environmental laws comes after a court decision earlier this month overturning approval for Indian conglomerate Adani Group to build one of the world’s biggest new coal mines on scrubland near the Great Barrier Reef.
Environmental groups went to court to try to stop the project amid concerns the Carmichael coal mine and associated infrastructure in the Galilee Basin of tropical Queensland state could endanger a rare lizard known as the yakka skink and another vulnerable species, the ornamental snake.
Following that decision, the government said it would to repeal parts of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act that had allowed greens groups to delay resource projects or even stop them completely.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has been a skeptic of climate change and a champion of Australia’s powerhouse coal industry, said after the decision that green groups were threatening growth and Australia’s national interests. Mr. Abbott promised after winning power in 2013 to make the country more “open for business.”
However, public concern over environmental issues has been rising during Mr. Abbott’s time in office. An Essential Media opinion survey on Tuesday showed 53% of Australians believed the government wasn’t doing enough to address worries about climate change. The opposition Labor party has sought to capitalize on mounting environmental worries, promising to make Australia 50% reliant on renewable energy by 2030 if it wins elections next year.
Environmental group Greenpeace said the government was stripping Australians’ rights to defend nature in response to coal-industry pressure.
“Australia’s environment laws aren’t very restrictive; they allow you to mine coal in prime farm land and are even failing to protect world heritage areas like the Great Barrier Reef,” said Greenpeace Australia Pacific Chief Executive David Ritter. “They’re seeking to legislate special treatment and fast tracking for an industry in decline that causes significant environmental and economic damage.”
Adani expects the controversial mine to produce as much as 60 million tons of thermal coal annually for export to its power plants in India. Previous estimates pegged the construction costs at 16.5 billion Australian dollars (US$12.2 billion).