The Queensland state government of Australia approved businessman Gautam Adani’s project to protect the endangered black-throated finch bird population on Friday. It is one of two state approvals the company needs to begin construction of its proposed billion dollar coal mine project.
The department of environment and science said Adani had submitted an updated version of the plan, which included new commitments, on May 28.
The mine site is the habitat for the black-throated finch, which is endangered both nationally and in Queensland. Adani’s plan for protecting the endangered bird proposes conserving vegetation for the species on land next to the Carmichael site.
Lucas Dow, the chief executive of Adani Mining, on Friday said the approval was an “important step”. “The company is now dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s in terms of agreements with contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, local councils and so forth,” he said, according to The Guardian. He said the finch plan had been subject to “rigorous scientific evaluation”.
He said the company incorporated a number of requirements that the department had asked for. “Whilst on a number of those we didn’t necessarily believe they were required as part of meeting our conditions and obligations, in the interests of getting the plan concluded and approved we’ve incorporated those and subsequently the department has approved the plan,” Dow added.
The victory for the Adani Group’s project comes days after Australia’s pro-coal ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, won the country’s elections.
The Australian government had in April granted approval to the groundwater management plans. The Environment Ministry’s clearance means only the approval of the Queensland government is necessary for the project to proceed.
Last week, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had set a three-week deadline for the two environmental approvals. Adani now has to get approval for its groundwater plan before it can start preliminary work at its mine site. However, it will need other federal environmental approvals before extracting coal.
Scientists, however, have raised doubts about the plan. “They currently don’t exist there and they don’t currently occupy that habitat,” said Brendan Wintle, a professor of conservation ecology at Melbourne University. Wintle conducted a review of Adani’s finch management plan. “It’s the wrong ecology,” he said. “They’ve had the opportunity to breed there for 10,000 years and they haven’t. This project will significantly increase the risk of extinction for the finch.”
The Australian Conservation Foundation said the approval could make the species go extinct. “The black-throated finch has already lost 88% of its historical range and recent analysis shows six of the coal mines planned for the Galilee Basin would completely clear nearly 35,000 hectares of the finch’s best remaining habitat,” said Christian Slattery. “The black-throated finch is already endangered and this decision by the Queensland government – which comes after months of pressure … by Adani and the mining lobby – may have sealed its fate.”
The Mackay Conservation Group said the government rushed the approval. “Nothing in the finch management plan presented today by Adani has changed or improved since its last rejection on the second of May,” said community organiser Michael Kane.