India’s Adani Enterprises is preparing to start construction of a $7 billion coal mine in Australia in 2017 despite years of legal delays and rollercoaster coal prices, the conglomerate said on Wednesday.
“We are on schedule to start construction in the third quarter (of next year),” Adani spokesperson Ron Watson said, although he added that billions of dollars in financing were still required, along with clearance from water authorities.
Progress on the giant project comes as Australia looks to potentially curb legal challenges to new mining developments following an onslaught of environmental suits aimed at delaying the Adani mine and others proposed in the remote Galilee Basin in the country’s northeast.
Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull this week said his administration could present legislation to block green activists seeking to stymie projects. An earlier attempt to introduce such legislation was rejected by parliament amid stiff opposition.
“We have a robust democracy and people are entitled to bring their cases before the courts, but there is no doubt there have been very systematic, very well-funded campaigns against major projects so it’s right to express concern about that,” Turnbull told reporters.
“We did present some legislation in the last parliament but it was unsuccessful and we’ll obviously reassess the tenor of the new Senate to see whether it would have the appetite for supporting it in the new environment.”
The Carmichael mine has been hit by more than half-a-dozen court challenges and appeals despite its owner spending more than A$3 billion so far on the project.
Five cases opposing the mine remain before the courts, with critics concerned greenhouse gases from burning coal will hinder efforts to combat global warming.
The mine would be twice the size of Australia’s current largest coal mine and would yield as much as 60 million tonnes of coal per year from the site for 60 years.
Prices for the thermal coal Adani would mine have doubled since June to more than $100 a tonne as electricity generators across Asia clamour for limited supplies.
In a recent legal challenge, the ruling coalition was told to re-evaluate Adani’s proposal to mine after the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) argued the government failed to take into account the mine’s impact on the yakka skink lizard and a kind of snake.
“Proper court scrutiny of decisions made about massive projects such as Adani’s Carmichael mine are important because they build community confidence in the planning system, help guard against corruption and result in better environmental assessments and outcomes,” said Jo-Anne Bragg, chief executive of the Environmental Defenders Office of Queensland state, which has spearheaded legal opposition to Adani.
Environmentalists fear curbs would undermine their efforts to keep mining companies at bay.
ACF chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said the group would “vigorously oppose any attempts to remove the right of environment groups to legitimately apply Australia’s laws”.