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Prime Minister Turnbull with Adani chairman Gautam Adani in India (screen shot via skynews.com.au).

Turnbull is killing the Great Barrier Reef while keeping Australia "shackled to dirty and outdated coal technology for decades to come" and making us pay for it. RenewEconomy's Sophie Vorrath reports.

PRIME MINISTER MALCOLM TURNBULL has come under renewed criticism from Australian environmental groups after meeting with senior executives from Indian coal mining giant Adani, as part of his three-day state visit to India.

The meeting with Adani Group chair Gautam Adani and other company executives in New Delhi on Monday coincides with deliberations on the company’s final investment decision on the $21 billion Carmichael coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee basin, which is set to be Australia’s largest coal mine if built.

The project has been hugely controversial for a range of environmental and economic reasons but mostly for the significant threat it poses to the nearby Great Barrier Reef — which is already seriously compromised as a consequence of global warming.

But concern for one of the world’s natural wonders and one of Australia’s greatest tourism assets has not stopped the Federal Government from actively lobbying for the Carmichael coal mine — something that Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg was caught out doing at the 2016 UN Climate Talks in Marrakech.

And activists say that Turnbull’s meeting with Adani chair Gautam Adani looks like more of the same — particularly in light of the Indian company’s bid for a $900 million Federal Government loan for the railway that would link the mine to port.

As GetUp! environmental justice campaigns director Sam Regester said on Tuesday:

The Great Barrier Reef is dying. And Turnbull is in India sucking up to the very man who is going to make it worse. Worse, he’s going to give him a billion dollars to do it.

His idea of protecting the Reef is giving a coal billionaire a billion dollars to build a coal mine right on the Reef’s doorstep.

It’s time Turnbull stops pretending he represents the interest of Australians, not the interests of huge mining corporations. As the rest of Australia works to save the Reef, Turnbull has turned his back.

According to reports, Turnbull said that he supported exporting Australian coal and other resources to India to assist with the subcontinent's ”enormous need” for more electricity.

He said:

“ ... India has a massive programme of expanding electrification across the country and Australian coal has a very big role to play in that.”

But he denied discussing Adani’s bid for the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund (NAIF) loan, which he described as a matter that needed independent approval and was outside of his control.

Turnbull said:

“That’s an independent process, it has to go through that process — that independent assessment by the board.” 

Meanwhile, the Carmichael mine has also faced numerous court challenges — the latest being over Native Title after a recent Federal Court ruling threw into question more than 100 proposed land use agreements, including one covering Adani’s project.

The Turnbull Government is trying to pass legislation that would reverse that court ruling and make it easier for the deals to be registered — a move that is reportedly supported by Federal Labor.

According to reports from ABC News, Turnbull is believed to have told Adani that the Native Title issue “needed to and would be fixed.”

The Greens, meanwhile, have announced plans to introduce a bill for a “suitable person test” to the NAIF funding process, intended to block the Adani project because of the company’s alleged track record of environmental law breaches.

Back in Australia, the Turnbull Government is also coming under fire, not only for its anachronistic and uneconomic support of new coal power generation, but also for its “pandering” to incumbent fossil fuel generators through a proposed 50-year coal power closure plan.

350.org Australia's energy spokesperson, Josh Creaser, said on Tuesday that the Coalition had: 

 ... caved in to the Big Polluters in proposing a plan that would throw the climate and local communities under a bus.

This is just another example of the Turnbull Government prioritising their mates in big business above the desires of Australians.

Running coal plants to 50 years means keeping Australia shackled to dirty and outdated coal technology for decades to come.

Instead … the conversation between the government and our energy retailers should instead be planning how to close down our coal plants and transition to renewables by 2030 in line with the climate science.

But – just like in the U.S., where President Donald Trump is talking up “really clean coal” and talking down renewables – industry experts in Australia argue that policy will ultimately have little impact on the shape of future energy markets, as both new and old coal power rapidly becomes environmentally and economically unviable.

As we reported hereAudrey Zibelman, the progressive new CEO of the Australian Energy Market Operator, says the future will be “decentralised”, based around local generation, and it will be quicker, smarter, cleaner, cheaper and more reliable than the current set-up. 

Hazelwood’s owners, Engie, also see a future where half of all demand is met by electricity sourced from homes and businesses, mostly with solar and storage. And they see the future of large-scale generation will also be in solar, which is why they tendered for proposals earlier this year.

Likewise, in the U.S., the New York Times reports that executives at the nation’s largest electric utilities say Trump’s support of coal makes little difference to them — they still plan to retire coal plants and have no plans to build new ones.

“For us, it really doesn’t change anything”, said Jeff Burleson, vice president of system planning at Southern Company, an Atlanta-based utility that provides electricity to 44 million people across the Southeast, of the prospective rollback of the Clean Power Plan.

Burleson said:

Whatever happens in the near-term in the current administration doesn’t affect our long-term planning for future generations.

We’ll continue to grow the renewables portion of our business and meanwhile rely on natural gas, but we don’t see investing in new coal.

You can follow Sophie Vorrath on Twitter @sophvorrath. This article was originally published in RenewEconomy and has been republished with permission.

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