Two separate environmental coalitions are criticizing the Obama Administration for its intent to support coal and natural gas export terminals near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
According to an “intent to file suit” letter sent by the Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Environment, and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, the U.S. Export-Import bank is considering financing two liquid natural gas export facilities in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area that will have the cumulative capacity to handle 30 million metric tons of gas per year.
The groups say the Ex-Im bank, which helps broker sales of U.S. exports, has not properly considered the environmental impact of the “construction, dredging, operation, and shipping associated with these facilities,” which, according to the groups, would “diminish water quality, destroy habitat, and otherwise harm several ESA-listed species.”
Coincidentally, on the same day, a group of environmental and conservation organizations sent a letter to Ex-Im Bank President Fred Hochberg, criticizing his institution for reportedly considering providing financing for a large coal mine in Australia designed for increasing exports across the same Great Barrier Reef area.
According to the coalition, plans to build the Alpha Coal mine could result in up to five times more shipping traffic across the Great Barrier Reef. The groups also warned of the global warming impact of increasing coal exports to Asian and other energy-hungry regions:
The global warming impacts of the Alpha Coal mine are enormous. When burned, the coal from the Alpha mine would produce a volume of greenhouse gases larger than the combined emissions of Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, and Washington D.C. With the International Energy Agency warning that we have only five years to make a dramatic shift away from fossil fuels to avoid catastrophic climate change, Ex-Im Bank financing of this project will put your institution squarely at odds with the international community’s understanding of the severity and consequence of climate change.
The Ex-Im Bank follows the Equator Principles and has declared pride about being environmentally responsible. Financing this project, or any of the coal export projects sited in the Great Barrier Reef, would make a mockery of these principles and policies. Worse, they would further undermine the legacy of your chairmanship and the reputation of the institution. We strongly urge you to publicly disassociate with the GVK project.
According to the World Resources Institute, up to 90 percent of the world’s corals could be threatened by bleaching, ship traffic, and overfishing by 2030.
In 2009, the Ex-Im Bank adopted a carbon management policy that would “address the climate change issues raised by the Bank’s export financing activities while remaining flexible and responsive to the needs of U.S. exporters.” The bank has approved hundreds of millions of dollars in financing for renewable energy projects overseas.
However, the coalition of environmental groups, which includes the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and the Australian Marine Conservation Society, say that by supporting damaging coal facilities in environmentally sensitive regions, the Ex-Im bank is not living up to the environmental standards it claims to uphold.
“How an institution with strict environmental polices and safeguards could even consider a project that would be sited inside one of the world’s great treasures — the Great Barrier Reef — defies logic,” said Justin Guay, head of the Sierra Club’s international program.
Guay pointed to the The Ex-Im bank’s sister agency, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), as a model for deploying sustainable energy projects around the world. That organization, which provides financial tools to help U.S. businesses expand in emerging markets, has directed most of its energy financing activity to sustainable projects. At the Rio+20 conference in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that OPIC would provide $20 million in grants for African entrepreneurs that would leverage billions in economic activity for clean energy and water projects.
“Nothing could be more stark than the difference between Ex-Im and OPIC,” said Guay. “Ex-Im Bank has become a black stain on the Administration’s efforts to position the US to compete in the $267 Billion global clean energy industry.”