The federal government is set to boost its environmental powers in a surprise move today which could stop coal-seam gas (CSG) mining and exploration dead in its tracks around Australia.
Echonetdaily has been told that federal cabinet decided at its meeting in Canberra this morning to use a water trigger under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act to assess CSG projects.
Environment minister Tony Burke has already briefed north coast MPs Janellle Saffin (Lismore) and Justine Elliot (Richmond) on the legislative changes, with caucus meeting this morning to learn more details.
A federal Labor source told Echonetdaily that ‘stage one’ CSG mining projects, those already far advanced such as in Queensland’s Darling Downs, would progress ‘but everything else not at that stage can be affected’.
‘In our neck of the woods (NSW north coast) they’re still looking (exploring) and that can therefore be stopped,’ the source said.
The Lock the Gate Alliance, which has campaigned for federal intervention ahead of the September election, has welcomed the latest move.
Last week, as part of the campaign, alliance groups across the country delivered a document titled ‘Call to Country’ to federal MPs outlining steps they want taken against CSG development, including placing a moratorium on drilling.
Alliance president Drew Hutton applauded the proposed federal intervention as ‘a very good first step’ but said the government could do more.
Mr Hutton told Echonetdaily the commonwealth could use export and trading powers to create no-go zones over agricultural or national landscape areas, as well as the proposed new water trigger under the EPBC Act.
Mr Hutton last week said the states had too much of a vested interest in approving mines with the income from royalties, and ‘would say yes to every one of these’.
The alliance released a map showing an estimated 437 million hectares covered by coal and gas licences or applications, which was around 56 per cent of Australia.
The Australian Greens backed the alliance’s moves to stem the approvals of CSG mining in rural areas.
Greens leader Christine Milne said ‘the old parties need to wake up to the fact that the protection of agricultural land and water is critical in an age of food security’.