RAN Denounces Australian Government for Lobbying on Behalf of Coal Project


February 11, 2015

Contact: Claire Sandberg, 646-641-6431claire@ran.org

Australian diplomat lobbied U.S. banks to bankroll coal port that would turbocharge climate change and wreck the Great Barrier Reef

Documents released via open records request available here: http://a.ran.org/f1F 

Rainforest Action Network (RAN) denounced the Australian government’s interventions on behalf of the coal industry, following the release of documents showing an Australian diplomat lobbied U.S. banks in support of the controversial Abbot Point coal export project in Queensland, Australia. Correspondence obtained through an open records request by Australian anti-coal group Market Forces show that Australian consul general Nick Minchin met with several U.S. banks in New York in November 2014 to try and shore up support for the proposed expansion of the Abbot Point coal port, shortly after Rainforest Action Network secured public commitments to steer clear of Abbot Point from U.S. banking giants Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley.

Rainforest Action Network Climate and Energy Program Director Amanda Starbuck criticized the Australian government’s full-throated backing of Abbot Point. “It’s shameful that the Australian government would go out of its way to serve as a lobbyist for the financial interests of the coal industry,” said Starbuck. “This project, if completed, would be arguably the world’s single most destructive coal project. The proposed port expansion would unlock one of the largest stores of carbon on the planet, the Galilee Basin, which we simply must keep in the ground if we want to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. On top of that, constructing the project would require dredging part of the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s irreplaceable natural treasures.”

The issue of coal’s impact on the Great Barrier Reef has been a matter of contention between President Obama and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Abbott has called coal “good for humanity,” and given strong backing to Abbot Point and other coal infrastructure projects, while President Obama has called on Australia to do more to protect the reef, and has spoken publicly about the threat climate change poses to the reef. UNESCO is currently considering whether to officially designate the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Site as “in danger” due to the threat posed by Abbot Point.

The revelations of Australian government pressure on U.S. banks comes as RAN builds on the success of earlier campaigning to further marginalize Abbot Point from potential financial backers. In recent weeks, RAN has turned its attention to the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), following reports that the bank might be considering involvement in the deal. “U.S. tax dollars should be invested in climate solutions, not in throwing coal a financial lifeline and trashing a global treasure like the Great Barrier Reef,” said Starbuck. “Even Wall Street thinks the coal industry’s plan to build a giant coal port in the middle of the reef is too toxic to fund. It’s time for the Export-Import Bank to follow suit.”

Ex-Im Chairman Fred Hochberg has not responded to RAN requests for the bank to clarify its stance on the project, beyond confirming that a formal application for financing has not yet been received. Last week, RAN members participated in a call-in day to the Export-Import Bank’s public hotline and urged the bank to stay away from Abbot Point.

The proposed expansion of Abbot Point is critical to the plan to open up coal reserves in the Galilee Basin. Nine new mega coal mines are currently slated for the area, five of which would be bigger than any coal mine currently operating in Australia, with an estimated 705 million tons of potential carbon emissions annually. If Galilee Basin coal is mined and shipped overseas through Abbot Point as planned, Australia would move from the number two to number one coal exporter in the world.