The Commonwealth Environment Minister’s assessment of Adani’s essential water infrastructure for the controversial Carmichael coal mine is under a legal cloud again today, with the Environmental Defenders Office filing proceedings in the Federal Court on behalf of our client, the Australian Conservation Foundation.

The Minister, whose original decision was overturned by the Federal Court on different grounds, has yet again determined that the water trigger does not apply to the North Galilee Water Scheme Infrastructure (NGWS). The NGWS provides essential water to the Carmichael coal mine, but the Minister’s determination means its impacts on water resources will not be subject to assessment. That decision is now the subject of the ACF’s application for judicial review.

Contained in the Federal government’s key environmental legislation, the water trigger is designed to ensure that actions involving large coal mining and coal seam gas developments, which are likely to have a significant impact on a water resource, undergo a thorough assessment by the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development.

The NGWS will see up to 12.5 billion litres of water pumped from the Suttor River in central Queensland to the Adani mine, where it will be used primarily to wash coal and suppress dust.

 “Our client ACF argues that the Environment Minister made an error of law by failing to apply the ‘water trigger’ in Australia’s environmental law to Adani’s North Galilee Water Scheme”, said David Morris, EDO CEO.

“The Minister has determined that, despite the Carmichael coal mine operation’s reliance on the proposed infrastructure, the NGWS is not a ‘coal mining activity’ and therefore not subject to the water trigger. ACF’s case is that that is a misconstruction of the term ‘coal mining activity’ and the decision must be overturned.”

“Legal challenges are never taken lightly by us or our client”, said Mr Morris. “In this case the project involves the use of water for coal mining on an enormous scale and it’s vitally important that these impacts be subject to the thorough assessment we say is required by law.

“There is enormous public interest in this process, evidenced by the more than 7,000 submissions made during the public comment period.”

ACF took similar legal action with EDO in December 2018. During that case it became clear the government had failed to properly consider some of the thousands of public submissions it received. In June 2019 the government acknowledged that error and conceded the case, leaving unaddressed the question of whether it failed to correctly apply the water trigger.