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New Queensland coal mines round down to avoid basic environmental scrutiny

The Queensland Palaszczuk Government is allowing at least eight new coal projects in Great Barrier Reef catchments and floodplains to escape basic environmental assessment because they don’t meet arbitrary size requirements, despite their destructive impacts on land, water, and climate. 

New projects can mine up to two million tonnes of coal per annum, while expansions can mine up to five million tonnes of coal per annum more than their current approval before triggering an Environmental Impact Statement.

In response, a coalition of environment and community groups has sent a letter to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, criticising the policy and demanding that at the bare minimum, the new coal projects be subject to the same level of scrutiny as larger mines.

In one case, Vitrinite’s proposed Vulcan project has effectively been allowed to double in size to 3.8 million tonnes per annum, but has still escaped a requirement to submit an EIS because the expansion would only mine 1.9 million tonnes. While Vitrinite has presented the project as two mines in its application to the government, the company’s website presents them as a single “complex”. The assessment rules the government is operating under also show even greater expansions would likely escape the need to submit an EIS.

Collectively, the eight projects would be responsible for nearly two billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions across their life spans.

The direct impacts of these projects include:

  • The destruction of thousands of hectares of habitat where threatened and endangered species such as the koala and greater glider live.

  • Increases in sediment and pollution in floodplains and catchment areas that flow into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

  • Damage to Aboriginal sacred sites.

  • Legacy pollution issues for Queenslanders to deal with given less stringent backfilling requirements.

Environmental Advocacy in Central Queensland director Coral Rowston said the decision by the Environment Department not to require EIS was clearly political.

“Mining companies are actively avoiding the costs and public scrutiny associated with a thorough environmental impact assessment, and the Queensland Palaszczuk Government is encouraging this,” she said.

“It’s really concerning that under the Palaszczuk Government's framework, a mine could theoretically continue expanding in 1.9 MTPA instalments without ever requiring an EIS.

“It’s a slow death of a thousand cuts at a time when Queensland’s environment is already under never before seen pressure from fossil fuel development, despite the Federal Albanese Government’s apparent promises to halt the extinction crisis and reduce Australia’s carbon emissions.”

“The Palaszczuk Government has no defence for why these destructive projects shouldn’t be subject to the same basic standards of environment assessment as others.

“Despite what the mining lobby would have Queenslanders think, Central Queensland is so much more than just a coal basin. It is home to vibrant communities and unique and breathtaking biodiversity including our much beloved Great Barrier Reef. The Palaszczuk Government is risking all this by allowing these coal projects to fly under the radar.”

Lock the Gate Alliance Queensland Coordinator Ellie Smith said the actions of the Queensland Labor Government failed to match its rhetoric around accountability and action on climate change.

“A mining company undertaking a full environmental impact statement is a basic level of accountability to the Queensland community. But projects like these could gain all their approvals before the local community knows anything about them. It’s a recipe for corruption," she said.

“The Palaszczuk Government is fresh from a series of clean energy announcements, yet behind the scenes it allows coal mining companies to sneak new polluting projects through without basic environmental scrutiny.”


Planned coal mines not required to submit an EIS:

Caval Ridge Mine Horse Pit Extension


Maintaining 3.89 MT/a

Middlemount Coal Mine South


Maintaining 5.5 MT/a

Gregory Crinum Coal Mine M-Block Extension Project


From 2MT/a up to 3MT/a

Isaac River Coal Mine


0.5 MT/a

Meandu Mine King 2 East


Maintaining 11 MT/a 

Vulcan South


1.95 MT/a

Vulcan Complex


1.95 MT/a

Gemini Project


1.9 MT/a

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