SYDNEY - An Australian court Wednesday revoked the approval of a massive, Indian-backed coal mine project that environmentalists say threatens the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef.
But while environment groups hailed the decision over what would be one of the world's biggest mines as another important step in the Aus$16.5-billion (S$16.8-billion) project's eventual demise, Indian firm Adani insisted it would go ahead.
"With the consent of the parties, the Federal Court has formally set aside the approval of the Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project," the Environment Department said in a statement.
Environmental groups had challenged the government's approval of the mine on the basis of the enormous amount of greenhouse gases it would create, its impact on vulnerable species and Adani's "poor environmental record".
They also have protested against its impact on the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world's most biodiverse marine areas, because of the coal would have to be shipped out of a nearby port, as well as the damage caused by climate change.
The court said it halted the project because of problems in the approval process, the Environment Department said.
The department said there was a possibility that the advice it provided to Environment Minister Greg Hunt before he made his decision "should have been provided in a particular manner".
"This is a technical, administrative matter and to remove this doubt, the department has advised that the decision should be reconsidered," it said.
"Reconsidering the decision does not require revisiting the entire approval process." It said it expected it would take six to eight weeks to prepare its new advice and supporting documentation and for Hunt to reconsider his decision on the mine.
Electricity and jobs
The mine is estimated to provide electricity for up to 100 million people in India and generate thousands of Australian jobs.
But the development proposes massive open-cut and underground coal mining some 160 kilometres (100 miles) northwest of Clermont in central Queensland, as well as a 189-kilometre rail link.
It is forecast to produce 60 million tonnes of thermal coal a year for export, which environment groups say would create vast amounts of carbon emissions that are blamed for global warming.
Adani said Wednesday it was committed to ensuring its mine, rail and port projects in Queensland were developed and operated in accordance with Australian laws, including strict environmental conditions.
"It is regrettable that a technical legal error from the Federal Environment Department has exposed the approval to an adverse decision," the company said in a statement.
"We have been advised that, because certain documents were not presented by the department in finalising the approval, it created a technical legal vulnerability that is better to address now." Adani said it would await the government's reconsideration of the approval, adding it was confident the conditions imposed on the original consent were robust and appropriate.
The company said it was in the fifth year of development and approvals for the project and "the need to finalise these approvals and timelines is critical".