Killing the Reef with coal: 3 questions Minister Burke needs to answer

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Feature Story - 2 April, 2013
ABC’s 4Corners program “Gas leak!” revealed major flaws in the assessment of coal seam gas projects in Queensland. This is not an isolated case – last year, Environment Minister Tony Burke called the environmental assessment for the huge Alpha coal mine proposal “shambolic”.

Aerial view of Hay Point coal terminal.

Greenpeace’s work to stop the expansion of coal exports on the Great Barrier Reef coastline shows that the standard of assessment being applied to major industrial developments in the Great Barrier Reef is also seriously flawed. It would shock most Australians. The tale of two coal terminals at Abbot Point, Terminal Zero and Terminal Three demonstrates a crisis of management of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the expanding fossil fuel industry.

We need answers to the questions raised by the 4 Corners program, and by Greenpeace’s investigation into the T3 approval:

  • If a 60 million tonne coal terminal can be approved for development in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, is there any thin green line that Australia won’t cross?
  • If a coal terminal can be approved based on false information, how can Australians have confidence in our environmental laws and leadership?
  • Even more fundamentally, if climate change is the biggest and gravest threat to the future of the Reef, why is Australia trying to expand our coal exports, already our biggest contribution to global warming?

This tells a much broader story of institutional failure in Australia when it comes to protecting and preserving our most precious natural assets. News broke this week that the Federal Environment Department is investigating allegations that GVK Hancock provided false or misleading information in order to get approval to build a 60 million tonne per year coal export terminal at Abbot Point, in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, which is an offence under Australia’s Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act.

The investigation was prompted by Greenpeace’s workexposing GVK Hancock’s failure to include significant new information about the ecological values of the Caley Valley Wetland, which will be partially developed for the coal terminal, in their environmental assessment of the proposal.

The problem is, the terminal has already been approved by Environment Minister Tony Burke. The thin green line is already broken. Greenpeace has sent a letter of demand to the Environment Minister Tony Burke, who has power to suspend or revoke Hancock’s approval, now that there is a shadow cast over the accuracy of the information they provided to obtain it.

The investigation should take a few months, and we’ll be watching out closely for the results. You can help by tweeting to Environment Minister Tony Burke asking him to suspend GVK’s approval to build a coal terminal at Abbot Point while they’re under investigation by his own department. Retweet ours below or write your own to @Tony_Burke.