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Environmental changes don't protect groundwater: Greens

Senator Ian Macdonald.
Senator Ian Macdonald. Chris Ison

A LAST-ditch effort by The Greens to protect property owners from encroaching coal seam gas exploration or development appeared to fall on deaf ears as wider-ranging environmental legislation went unopposed in the Senate.

Amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act by the Labor Government - announced in March - will create a "water trigger" that forces large-scale coal mines or CSG projects to face another layer of regulation if they "are likely to have a significant impact on a water resource".

Once this happens, the projects will be examined by the Independent Expert Scientific Committee.

When introduced to the Senate on Tuesday, it was supported by the Coalition, although Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald described it as needless duplication of state laws.

The Greens felt the environmental changes did not go far enough in protecting groundwater or ensuring farmers were not strong-armed by resource companies.

Queensland Senator Larissa Waters introduced amendments to the government bill, including changes that would stop the federal minister of environment from approving any project unless the land owner was supportive and had taken independent legal advice on the consequences of a deal.

"Labor's bill debated in the Senate today belatedly gives the federal environment minister the power to consider the impacts of coal seam gas and large coal mines on water resources," Senator Waters said.

"But it's too little, too late - that's why I've introduced these amendments."

These changes, she said, would allow land owners to refuse CSG and coal mines on their land.

The Greens also proposed changes to stop any federal government from handing the approval process of a major resources project to a state or territory.

There would also be a streamlining of categories so other potentially contentious energy projects - including shale gas developments - were put into the same category as CSG and the same safeguards applied.

"If the other parties are serious about protecting farmers and the environment from coal seam gas, they will support my amendments."

Neither Labor nor the Coalition showed any signs of supporting the Greens' changes, which would force the initial bill back through the House of Representatives for another round of debate.

The Senate was expected to run out of time before it could make a decision on the bill or the Greens' amendments on Tuesday.

Topics:  coal seam gas environment greens senate


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