The environment minister, Greg Hunt, has approved Clive Palmer’s Galilee Basin mine, China First.
The approval, announced after 5pm on Friday, comes with conditions including that Palmer contribute $100,000 a year to a conservation fund and a limit on how much land, in an area home to endangered species, the mine can take over.
Palmer is yet to personally comment but the managing director of the company in charge of the $6.4bn project, Waratah Coal, Nui Harris, welcomed the move.
“The EIS process has involved consultation with a significant number of stakeholders including elected representatives, federal and state government agencies as well as non-governmental agencies, local councils, Indigenous representatives, the private sector, public organisations and local residents,” he said.
The China First mine will process a maximum of 40m tonnes of coal a year, which would release an estimated 85.6m tonnes of CO2 once burned, slightly more than the annual emissions of Romania.
The project will involve the building of a 453km rail line to transport coal from the mine to the Abbot Point port, where it will be shipped to export markets over 30 years.
Conservationists are deeply opposed to the project because it would wipe out half of the 8,000-hectare Bimblebox Nature Refuge, home to koalas and about 150 bird species, including the endangered black-throated finch and the vulnerable red goshawk. There are also concerns over the amount of groundwater it will use.
The approval comes with 49 conditions attached, including the acquisition by Waratah Coal of 10,000 hectares of land to offset environmental damage it will do with the project and a water plan to address the impact on groundwater in the area.
Waratah Coal has already courted controversy over the project by failing to properly decommission and rehabilitate 300 exploration drill holes at the site of the proposed mine. The Queensland government found Waratah hadn’t taken “all reasonable measures to minimise harm”, setting a new deadline for the clean-up work.
The federal government had to approve the mine for its environmental impact as well as the effect it, and other mines in the Galilee Basin, will have upon water resources. The Queensland government approved the project in August.
Palmer predicts his mine will support 3,500 jobs during construction and 2,325 more when operational.
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