Approval laws delayed in further effort to do the bidding of coal and gas industry

New environmental protection laws promised before the last election have been put indefinitely on hold, in another effort by the Albanese government to serve the coal and gas industry.

Labor had planned to release a newly revised Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, under which developments projects seek federal government approval.

A review of the existing law in 2020 found it was “ineffective” and needed major reform, with Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek in 2022 describing the system as “broken”.

The law has been failing in its basic aim of preventing the extinction of endangered species and ecosystems.

But the Minerals Council complained of “significant concerns” about Labor’s proposed changes after private consultation with the government, a briefing paper obtained by The Nightly revealed.

There was also pressure to halt the changes from the WA Labor government, itself in the pocket of mining companies and the gas industry.

Environmental groups and The Greens have been pushing for changes that force consideration of the climate change impact of new projects, something currently completely missing from the approval process.

The inclusion of a such a “climate trigger” would allow the Environment Minister to reject projects based on their climate change impact—although the decision would still be entirely up to the Minister, with limited rights to challenge them in court.

The government committed, as part of its Safeguard Mechanism package, to at least require new projects to report their expected carbon emissions when seeking approval. This would include new coal and gas projects. Even this requirement won’t come into force until new EPBC legislation is passed.

The delay also means that “more than 30 coal and gas projects are likely to be approved”, as they will be assessed under the current weak EPBC Act, according to Lock the Gate’s Carmel Flint.

Reform of the EPBC Act is now almost certain to be postponed until after the next election.

By James Supple


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