Federal approval powers over coal seam gas wells and big coal mines will be extended under new laws expected to be announced by the Gillard government on Tuesday.
Federal cabinet is understood to have this morning approved an extension of federal environmental powers to cover the potential cumulative impacts on water of new wells and mines – a move independent MP Tony Windsor has been demanding since he agreed to support Labor to form government in 2010.
The decision to include water as a trigger in the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act comes as the campaign against coal seam gas projects intensifies in many marginal electorates, despite the NSW government's recent decision to impose a two-kilometre buffer between gas wells and townships or farms and the withdrawal of AGL's plans to expand its project in western Sydney.
The government plans to introduce legislation to ratify the water trigger as soon as possible.
The Coalition says the increased powers are not necessary and they could face a constitutional challenge.
Coalition energy and resources spokesman Ian Macfarlane said the federal minister was already able to get involved in project approvals and there was no case to expand federal powers.
Mr Windsor has insisted it is ''nonsense'' to suggest the move is unconstitutional.
The Commonwealth had been seeking to negotiate deals with the states about project approvals and had concluded agreements with Victoria, South Australia and Queensland.
Environment Minister Tony Burke accused NSW of refusing to agree to use the best science in making its decisions.
Victorian Energy and Resources Minister Michael O'Brien said those deals would be at risk.
Mr Windsor told Fairfax Media last month it was ''D-day'' and the Gillard government had to make good on its 2010 promise.
''NSW has shown they are not serious. They are not trying to fix the real problem, which is the potential for cumulative impact on water from numerous mines. I am not bluffing on this. I am not prepared to let it slide. There can be no more delays,'' he said.
The government's expert scientific panel has raised concerns about the cumulative effect of Queensland's $40 billion CSG industry on underground water supplies.