Australia gives India's GVK coal mine green light

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A huge US$6.3 billion Australian coal mine to be built by Indian infrastructure giant GVK was given the green light on Thursday under strict environmental conditions to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

Environment Minister Tony Burke said he had approved the Alpha Coal project in Queensland's coal-rich Galilee Basin with 19 caveats relating to the protection of local wetlands, threatened species and the iconic reef.

"My decision has been based on a thorough and rigorous assessment of the proposal taking into account the advice of my department and independent scientific advice," Burke said in a statement.

"I'm satisfied that we have now put in place the required additional conditions for the protection of the environment including the Great Barrier Reef."

The Alpha Coal project, 80 per cent owned by GVK in partnership with the world's richest woman Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting, is expected to produce about 30 million metric tons of energy coal per annum once operational.

It will include an open cut mine, a 500 kilometre (310 mile) rail line and port, and expects to ship its first coal by 2015.

Burke stepped in to halt the project in June over concerns that it would affect the nearby reef, and said he had moved to ensure coal dust, runoff and threatened species would be "properly dealt with".

The approval requires GVK and Hancock to provide offsets for impacts on threatened flora and fauna and draw up specific management plans for dugongs, turtles and migratory birds as well as cover wagons in order to limit dust.

They will also be required to report to Great Barrier Reef authorities every six months on impacts from the mine.

As it develops the rich coal deposits of Queensland, Australia is under increasing pressure to ensure the protection of the Great Barrier Reef and its marine life from runoff, port development and increased shipping.

A UNESCO report earlier this year urged decisive action from Canberra to protect the coral from the gas and mining boom and warned the reef risked being put on its list of world heritage sites deemed 'in danger'.

India is heavily dependent on coal for power generation and its companies are competing for global coal assets as they build power projects, steel and other plants to fuel the country's fast-growing economy.

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