FILE - Anti-Adani coal mine protestor Rae Sheridan is seen outside the LNP (Liberal National Party) headquarters in Brisbane, April 11, 2019. The protestors are trying to stop the building of Adani's Carmichael coal mine.
FILE - Anti-Adani coal mine protestor Rae Sheridan is seen outside the LNP (Liberal National Party) headquarters in Brisbane, April 11, 2019. The protestors are trying to stop the building of Adani's Carmichael coal mine.

SYDNEY - One of Australia’s most controversial coal projects has finally been approved after years of delay over environmental concerns.  Construction on the Indian-run Adani mine in Queensland state is expected to start within days.  The mine has symbolized a bitter debate in Australia over jobs and action against climate change.

The Adani Carmichael mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin is one of Australia’s biggest resources projects, and its most controversial.

For years, conservationists have challenged the Indian company’s plans to extract up to 60 million tons of coal from the site each year.

But approval has finally been granted by the Queensland state government, after earlier receiving the go-ahead from federal authorities.

Construction could begin within days, although Adani, the Indian mining giant, still needs additional consent to extract coal.

The company says its plan is environmentally responsible, and regulators say the approval process had been rigorous.   

Environmentalists, however, believe the true ecological impact of the huge mine is unknown.

Kelly O’Shanassy, the head of the Australian Conservation Foundation, is worried about its affect on water resources and one of the world’s last unspoiled desert oases.

“The groundwater experts have been saying for some years now that there is some significant concerns with Adani’s assumptions that the Doongmabulla Springs will not be affected," said O’Shanassy.  "Nothing has changed over those years, but the Queensland government put Adani’s profits over the advice of scientists, which is incredibly disappointing as governments are supposed to be putting the people first, and our needs for water, not the profits of a big corporation.”

The Adani mine has been a flashpoint for pro and anti-coal groups, and it symbolizes much broader divisions in Australia over climate change and jobs.

Australia is a major exporter of coal, which generates most of its electricity.  Coal is mined in every state and employs about 50,000 people.  

Critics, though, argue that the fossil fuel sector is fading, and that as well as contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, the Adani mine risks polluting the Great Barrier Reef that lies off the Queensland coast.