Sydney — Australia approved the construction of a controversial coal mine near the Great Barrier Reef on Thursday, paving the way for a dramatic increase in coal exports.
Drawing a line under a decade of rancorous debate, Queensland’s government said it had approved a groundwater management plan for Adani's Carmichael mine, the last major legal hurdle before construction could begin.
The vast open-cut mine is slated to produce up to 60-million tons of coal a year, boosting Australia's already vast exports by around 20%.
Coupled with the construction of a railway link, it could open a swathe of Queensland up to exploitation.
The project has been the subject of a fierce political fight, with supporters saying it will bring much-needed jobs to rural Queensland but opponents warning of a new generation of coal exports that will be burnt in India and China and help further degrade the planet.
Conservationists also say it would threaten local vulnerable species and mean coal will have to be shipped from a port near the World Heritage-listed Barrier Reef.
The debate intensified during the latest general election, which took place amid brutal droughts, floods and wildfires that had highlighted the country's susceptibility to climate change.
Victory for the incumbent conservative Liberal Party had virtually assured the project would go ahead.
Adani has indicated that work would begin within days but while the Queensland state approval will permit preliminary construction, the firm still must obtain some federal approvals before it can begin extracting coal.
The company will also still have to contend with low coal prices and a global shift to renewable energy, which could make the project less profitable.