The stage is set for a drawn-out legal battle over the controversial expansion of the Acland open-cut coal mine in Queensland.
On Friday afternoon the state government quietly issued a draft environmental authority for New Hope Coal’s $900 million project, northwest of Toowoomba, to go ahead.
However the lobby groups Oakey Coal Action Alliance and Environmental Defenders Queensland are preparing to take a case against the expansion to the state’s Land Court.
“In a matter of a small number of weeks the challenge or the objection … will be lodged,” EDQ’s Jo-Ann Bragg said on Monday.
The Land Court case would be the first lodged since the Labor government reinstated universal mining objection rights in July.
Critics argue the changes allow anyone in Australia, say someone in Tasmania or Western Australia, to oppose developments in Queensland.
Any Land Court case could take until mid-2016 to be resolved and the project would still require federal approval to go ahead.
“When you’re faced with massive coal mines the impacts need to be carefully considered,” Ms Bragg said.
Environment Minister Steven Miles says people deserve the legal right to object to major projects.
“That’s a right they would not have had if it weren’t for this government,” Dr Miles added.
Queensland Resource Council chief executive Michael Roche said he expected green activists’ “bag of tricks” to be used to delay or stop the Acland mine expansion.
Ms Bragg said the case would mirror a successful activist-led case in the Federal Court, where the approval of Adani’s huge Carmichael mine in central Queensland was overturned on a technicality.
“Like the Adani Carmichael Land Court case it will debate the merits of this proposal through … the best experts on groundwater, air quality, regional economics and so on,” she said.
Mr Miles has refused to comment whether he supports the mine’s expansion.
But Housing and Public Works Minister Leeanne Enoch has said the government “hopes for success” with the project.
“We don’t want to see projects falling over. We want them to succeed,” she said.
“But there are processes that we need to be going through and I guess we have to wait for that.”