Biodiversity offsets used by mining companies to gain approval for major projects will be investigated in a senate inquiry after The Greens secured support from Labour.
The inquiry, which is scheduled for a vote in the Senate on Wednesday, will scrutinise whether offsets are properly monitored and effective in managing environmental damage.
The inquiry will draw down on the Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek mine project, Clive Palmer’s China First project and the Abbot Point port expansion.
All three projects have been at the centre of intense criticism from environmentalist groups who claim there is a tenuous link between environmental offset plans tabled as part of the EIS and what occurs.
Greens senator Larissa Waters said offsets were “often magic pudding calculations to justify irreversible environmental damage,” and says there is little enforcement to ensure they are delivered, SMH reported.
“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,” Waters said.
The move comes after a series of recent concerns over all three projects.
Whitehaven Coal has been accused of using “false and misleading” information to secure approval for its controversial Maules Creek mine project.
Two independent reviews conducted on behalf of Lock the Gate has found the land purchased by the mining company to compensate for the removal of box gum trees does not provide 'like for like' habitat but are said to be completely different ecosystems.
The most recent review by ecologist, John Hunter, said only one of 53 sites surveyed “was likely to fulfil the criteria of the critically endangered ecological community determination".
The Palmer-owned China First project has also come under fire for its plans to mine a portion of the 8000-hectare Bimblebox Nature Reserve.
Protestors claim a Nature Refuge Agreement was signed with the Queensland Government in 2003, which is "the highest level of protection that can be afforded to private land in Queensland".
Protestors also claim Bimblebox is home to abundant native wildlife and vegetation.
The mine was handed federal environmental approval in December and is free to go ahead with its development.
While biodiversity safeguards around the Abbot Point expansion, which will see three million cubic metres of dredged seabed dumped within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, have also come under scrutiny following the release of FOI documents.
The documents show that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Protection Authority (GBRMPA) advised minister Greg Hunt not to approve dredging, stating that the plan would create a dredging plume footprint that would affect more than 147 square kilometres of habitat, and a worst case scenario plume footprint would affect over 687 square kilometres of marine habitat.
“The Abbot Point coal port is a classic example, with the Environment Minister (Greg Hunt) telling us all the damage will be offset but (freedom of information) revealing that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority found that would be impossible, as the damage was simply too great,” Waters said.
GBRMPA made the final decision to approve the dredging and its dumping in January subject to strict environmental conditions after Hunt approved the plan in December 2013.
“By granting this permit application with rigorous safeguards, we believe we are able to provide certainty to both the community and the proponent while seeking to ensure transparent and best practice environmental management of the project,” general manager for Biodiversity, Conservation and Sustainable Use, Bruce Elliot said at the time.
Waters said environmental offset plans by mining companies need to come under greater scrutiny.
“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,” Waters said.
“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 yet,” she said.