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Greens secure support for Senate inquiry into environmental offsets

The Australian Greens have secured support for a Senate Inquiry into environmental offsets used by the federal government in approving developments.

“We’re seeing offsets being used more and more as an excuse for governments to tick and flick environmentally damaging projects for the big mining companies,” Senator Larissa Waters, Australian Greens environment spokesperson, said.

“Often these offsets are so unrealistic that they’re impossible to deliver on.

“The Abbot Point coal port is a classic example, with the Environment Minister telling us all the damage will be offset but FOI revealing that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority found that would be impossible, as the damage was simply too great.  

“Not only are offsets often magic pudding calculations to justify irreversible environmental damage, there’s also hardly any enforcement of whether offsets are met.

“There’s often no political will and environment departments are so under-resourced that enforcement and monitoring of offsets falls by the way side.

“One of the other major problems is that the government rarely ground truths before approving offsets so we’re left to rely on the proponent’s word.

“We’ve seen Whitehaven get away with clearing endangered box gum for their Maules Creek coal mine by buying a patch of land that’s almost completely different vegetation.

“And Clive Palmer’s company is being allowed to destroy the Bimblebox Nature Refuge for a massive coal mine, in exchange for purporting to protect other vegetation that hasn’t even been identified.

“The environmental effectiveness of offsets has never been proven and yet they are being used as an excuse to approve damaging developments that should instead be refused under our national environment law.

“This inquiry is an important opportunity for the Senate to get expert and community input on whether offsets can even deliver the promised benefits or whether they’re being used as a smokescreen to allow irreparable damage,” Senator Waters said.

The inquiry will be voted on in the Senate tomorrow and Labor’s support has been publicly reported.

The inquiry report by 16 June 2014 and will address:

1.       The history, appropriateness and effectiveness of the use of environmental offsets in federal environmental approvals in Australia, including:

a.       The principles that underpin the use of offsets

b.      The processes used to develop and assess proposed offsets.

c.       The adequacy of monitoring and evaluation of approved offsets arrangements to determine whether promised environmental outcomes are achieved over the short and long term.

d.      With specific regard to (but not restricted to) the following projects:

                                                         i.            Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek Project

                                     ii.        Waratah Coal’s Galilee Coal Project

                                    iii.        QGC’s Curtis LNG project

                                   iv.        North Queensland Bulk Port’s Abbot Point Coal Terminal Capital Dredging Project

                                    v.        Jandakot Airport developments

2.    Any other related matters


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