Business groups want water taken out of mining assessments

Coal train pollution testing only being carried out in wealthy Brisbane suburbs and not Ipswich as Premier promises covers for coal trains. Photo: Sarah Harvey / The Queensland Times
Coal train pollution testing only being carried out in wealthy Brisbane suburbs and not Ipswich as Premier promises covers for coal trains. Photo: Sarah Harvey / The Queensland Times Sarah Harvey

THREE major industry and mining groups have called on the Abbott Government to abandon the "water trigger" in national environmental law.

The "water trigger' was introduced under the previous government to ensure the effects of large coal and coal seam gas projects on water resources were properly assessed.

But in a submission to a House of Representatives inquiry examining the government's plans to create "one stop shop" approvals processes, the industry urged the government to get rid of it.

The submission from the Business Council, Minerals Council and Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association endorsed Coalition statements at the time that the trigger was driven by politics.

While the big business groups called for the removal of the trigger, if it was not removed, industry endorsed the government's plans to hand it over to state governments to assess and enforce.

"While the water trigger remains in place, there is no policy rationale for prohibiting the Commonwealth from accrediting state government approvals processes for major coal mines and coal seam gas operations, where those state processes satisfy the standards for assessment and approval under the EPBC Act," the submission reads.

But the call follows legislation passing the House this week that further strengthens the water trigger, backed by Environment Minister Greg Hunt, to make sure state governments take on the advice of scientific experts to assess the effects of CSG and large coal mines on water.

However, in hearings of the inquiry on Thursday, the Law Council of Australia said while it supported less duplication of regulations, environmental standards should be maintained.

"Care is required to ensure that the regulatory scheme facilitates Australia's compliance with national and international commitments to ecologically sustainable development at the lowest economic cost both in the short and long term," the Law Council argued.

The nation's peak legal body also urged the Abbott Government to publicly recognise the "non-regression principle", to ensure new changes to environmental laws did not affect "matters of national and international environmental significance".

It also warned against the handover of Commonwealth environmental laws to state and territory governments, "after a series of High Court decisions overturned state government approvals granted to extractive industries", including stopping sand mining on Fraser Island.

Topics:  coal lng mining tony abbott

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