CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia's new government has ordered 47 major coal and coal seam gas projects to seek national environmental approval, including the controversial Kevin's Corner project proposed by the country's richest person Gina Rinehart.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt said they needed to be assessed for their impact on water supplies, adding the move showed the new conservative government was providing certainty for the mining industry and protecting environmental standards.
"The assessment of each of these projects will include the project's potential impacts on water resources in addition to the other matters protected under national environment law for which they were already being assessed," Hunt said in a statement.
"Once the assessment process is complete I will carefully consider each assessment, the advice of my department, and all public comments received before deciding whether these proposals can go ahead."
A decision on the process had been delayed by September 7 elections and because related environmental laws only passed parliament in late June.
Australia's coal miners are hoping the new government will cut red tape which they complain is holding up major projects at a time when a mining investment boom is cooling.
Developments referred for assessment include the A$4.5 billion Carmichael Coal and Rail Project, proposed by billionaire Gautam Adani and Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting Ltd's Kevin's Corner Project.
The Kevin's Corner Project has faced a public campaign led by an anti-coal alliance which says the mine would deplete groundwater crucial to farms.
Farmers and landholders in Queensland and New South Wales states have mounted strong campaigns against coal seam gas developments, which they fear will damage water tables in prime farming areas.
The Minerals Council of Australia, an industry-backed body, said Hunt's decision removed a "blockage" on the projects, but added further unnecessary regulatory delays.
"It is an unnecessary, duplicative piece of legislation introduced by the last parliament for political rather than environmental purposes," Minerals Council chief executive Mitch Hooke said.
(Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Ed Davies)