FEDERAL Environment Minister Greg Hunt has paved the way for Shenhua Watermark to proceed with its $1.2 billion coal mine on the Liverpool Plains.
Mr Hunt's decision to approve the mine, with conditions, under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act was released a short time ago.
Shenhua Watermark's controversial plans to construct an open-cut coal mine at Breeza, south of Gunnedah, is strongly opposed by farmers in the region.
New England MP Barnaby Joyce has described the mine's location as an "absurdity" and lobbied strongly for it to be assessed under the so-called "water trigger".
Under the EPBC Act, the Commonwealth can assess the impacts on aquifers of proposed large coal mines and coal seam gas projects.
However Mr Hunt, drawing on advice from the Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC), found no grounds to block the mine from proceeding.
Shenhua Watermark project manager Paul Jackson said that "after years of rigorous and scientific assessment" it was time for the mine's opponents to "put aside emotive arguments" and accept "the project should proceed".
"Today's decision to approve the Watermark Project is the final, irrefutable confirmation there will be no adverse impacts on the region's groundwater and impacts on sensitive ecological areas have been appropriately managed and offset," he said.
"The minister's decision relies on one of the most comprehensive groundwater studies undertaken in NSW and demonstrates mining can co-exist with agriculture while unlocking new opportunities for employment and economic growth in regional Australia."
See tomorrow's edition of The Leader for the full story.