The Queensland government in Australia has granted leases for Indian energy firm Adani Group to proceed with its Carmichael coal mine, even as the project is being criticized for its environmental impact.
Queensland’s mining minister Dr Anthony Lynham approved the grant of three individual mining leases about 160km north-west of Clermont.
Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said: "This is a major step forward for this project after extensive government and community scrutiny.
"Some approvals are still required before construction can start, and ultimately committing to the project will be a decision for Adani."
The government expects the mining leases for the $21.7bn Carmichael coal mine and rail project in the State’s Galilee Basin to create thousands of jobs.
Environmentalists have been questioning the approval for the project saying it could have harmful impact on the Great Barrier Reef.
Palaszczuk said: "However, I know the people of north and central Queensland will welcome this latest progress for the potential jobs and economic development it brings closer for their communities.
"At the same time, stringent conditions will continue to protect the environment, landholders’ and traditional owners’ interests, and our iconic Great Barrier Reef."
The three leases for mining in Queensland’s Galilee Basin are projected to produce 11 billion tonnes of thermal coal.
Greenpeace said that the approval of the mine is indefensible when the Great Barrier Reef is suffering its worst bleaching in over a decade.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific’s Reef Campaigner Shani Tager said: "There is no question that the Reef is suffering right now. Coral scientists, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and even the Queensland Government have acknowledged the severity of this latest bleaching.
"The federal and Queensland environment ministers are wringing their hands, despairing over the state of the Great Barrier Reef, yet at the same time they are paving the way for the nation’s biggest coal mine – a development that can only harm the Reef."
Adani estimates the mine, rail and port project to create a total of 9,500 jobs during the construction and the operational phases.
"My decision to approve these leases is tangible evidence of the Palaszczuk Government’s commitment to the sustainable development of the Galilee Basin for the thousands of jobs and economic development it will create," Dr Lynham said.
However, Adani said that it would a take final call on the investment only after receiving outstanding approvals and clearance for legal challenges.
"(The) conclusion of second-tier approvals and resolution of politically-motivated legal challenges is the company’s principal focus, prior to a final investment decision being made," 9News quoted Adani as saying in a statement.
Image: Satelite image of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo courtesy of NASA, by MISR/ Wiki